Edgar Ramirez

Gold

04/02/17

We’re getting used to those Matthew McConaughey mega-performances. In Gold, he goes full Jake La Motta, transforming himself into an overweight, balding, snaggletoothed chain-smoking alcoholic and yes, it’s the kind of impressive tour de force we’ve come to expect from the man, who used to make a living taking his shirt off in Jennifer Aniston comedies; but you can’t help wondering why he’s gone to such extreme lengths when the character he plays is semi-fictional anyway.

In Gold, he plays Kenny Wells, a down-on-his-luck prospector who gambles everything on one last-ditch expedition after having a dream about striking gold in Indonesia. (Let’s face it, we’ve all had that dream!) He hooks up with geologist, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a man who talks a good game and Wells raises the money to finance a trip to the Indonesian rain forest. Once there they pitch their tents and settle down to the wearisome task of drilling soil samples and having them assayed. For a long, long time, nothing happens, (unless you count Wells’ debilitating bout of malaria) but then they do find gold and almost before you can say ‘yippee’ the entire might of Wall Street is rushing in to get their hands on a piece of the action…

We’ve all seem films that are ‘based on a true story.’ This one is ‘inspired by real events’ and sure enough, a little searching on the internet pulls up the story of a man called David Walsh, who founded a tiny mining company called Bre-X in 1989. In the early 90’s he and one Michael Guzman discovered gold in Indonesia and generated billions of dollars off the back of it, before it was discovered that the whole thing was built on a lie. Gold alters some of the facts and shifts the events firmly into the 1980s (which if nothing else, does give the excuse for a cracking soundtrack) but the film is rather dominated by McConaughey, relegating most of his fellow-actors to the sidelines (including Bryce Dallas Howard as his long-suffering wife, Kay) and, rather like the star’s waistline, the film does get a bit lumpy towards the middle section.

A firmer hand in the editing suite would have helped to streamline proceedings, but this is nothing like as bad as some critics have suggested and here and there, the film does manage to fizz into life. Mind you, if you were looking for something to improve your opinion of the American financial system, this one isn’t for you. You’ll leave the cinema with the impression that every last person in the industry is a venal, money-grubbing back-stabbing piece of excrement.

Just sayin’.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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Joy

Unknownimages

29/12/15

David O Russell seems to have the knack of creating great films from fairly unpromising material – Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle are two movies that rose far above their IMDB outlines. On paper, the true life story of Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the ‘Miracle Mop’, might suggest that the average viewer should take along a pillow in order to sleep comfortably through the whole experience. But Joy is actually a riveting slice of cinema, made especially enjoyable by a luminous central performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

When we first meet Joy she’s a child, obsessed with building imaginary worlds out of scraps of paper; but very soon, she’s grown up, stuck in a dead end job, and divorced from her husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) who still lives in the basement and shares parental responsibility for their young children. Joy’s soap-opera-obsessed Mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen) refuses to leave her room, while her wayward husband Rudy (Robert De Niro) has just insisted on moving back into the family home after breaking up with his latest partner. All-in-all, this has to be one of the most dysfunctional families in America and Joy is the one tasked with making everything run as smoothly as possible.

In the midst of the chaos, she gets an idea for a self-wringing mop and persuades the rest of the family, plus Rudy’s hard headed but minted new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) to back her invention with hard cash. But the path to bringing it to reality is not an easy one and there are shady business people out there queuing up to steal her idea. Joy soon discovers that if she’s going to take her dream to fruition, she’s going to have to be as tough as the sharks she’s sharing the water with…

Russell’s take on the story is quirky, assured and never loses its sense of pace. There are great supporting performances from the ensemble cast (how lovely to see De Niro finally getting a decent role after a string of one-note cameos) and Bradley Cooper also shines as QVC pioneer, Neil Walker. But make no mistake, this is Lawrence’s movie and she makes the most of it. The camera loves her in this and you will too.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney