Gold Movie – Bre-X Scandal Indonesia

Jan 27, 2017

There’s a new Matthew McConaughey movie debuting worldwide this weekend, but is all that glitters really gold? Based on the true story of the Bre-X Minerals Ltd. scandal that began in Indonesia in 1993, “Gold” stars Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells alongside Édgar Ramírez as geologist Michael Acosta.

Calgary-based Bre-X began operating in the Busang area of Borneo in 1993; within a few years, the company claimed to have discovered an enormous gold deposit and sent the Bre-X stock soaring. But what really happened with this famed and shamed corporation? Was Bre-X gold really all a fabrication?

The “Gold” Movie Trailer

The Bre-X Scandal Summary

What was the Bre-X scandal? Founded in 1989 by David Walsh, Bre-X began as a tiny, almost insignificant Canadian company on a quest for greatness. The company enjoyed little success until it ventured to Borneo and bought a bit of property near a river in Busang. According to Bre-X’s chief geologist Michael de Guzman, their discovery would be the greatest gold find of a decade, if not more. At the peak of its gold mania, the company was valued at over $4 billion USD, but rather than boosting prosperity, Bre-X crumbled. Eventual investigations into Bre-X’s gold were catastrophic for the once-modest Calgary company.

As it turned out, the gold was mostly a lie. Chief geologist de Guzman tragically committed suicide in 1997. The Bre-X scandal began to unfold from there, as new experts brought in to investigate soon uncovered the greatest mining scandal in history. In spite of the fact that the gold was supposed to total more than 70 million ounces – an amount that increased from initial reports over time – there was hardly any gold found whatsoever. It was discovered that a practice called ‘salting’ had taken place, which meant that gold was shaved off of a piece of jewelry and ‘salted’ onto samples taken by the geologist to suggest a natural repository of gold.

What made Bre-X so scandalous? After all, if they lied about the amount of gold found, their profits would be nonexistent and they’d end up hurting themselves in the end. The answer lies with the stock market: Bre-X Minerals Ltd., which began as a penny stock, skyrocketed. By reporting false profits and amounts of mineral deposits (gold), Bre-X falsely raised the value of their stocks overnight. This shameful chapter in the history of mining exploited the stock exchange as well as indigenous workers, and left a dark shadow on the glittering face of gold.

“Gold” the Movie

“Gold” takes creative license to tell the story of the scandal; for example, the character Kenny Wells, played by Matthew McConaughey, is based on Bre-X founder David Walsh. Wells is portrayed as American rather than Canadian, and as a hapless and unlucky businessman with an expanding paunch and balding head. His character is reminiscent of the stereotypical used car salesman: greased up and sleazy with a bag of shady tricks to make his way in the world. His character reeks of dishonesty, and although the film tries to make him out to be an underdog, the writing and acting makes this difficult to believe. The writers constantly try to make Wells seem misunderstood – a slave to his own impulses – and attempts to use his lack of luck to make him appear more sympathetic. Despite McConaughey’s effort and subjectively sublime performance, he never quite hits the mark.

Working alongside McConaughey in “Gold” is Édgar Ramírez, a respected actor of Venezuelan descent who plays Michael Acosta, based upon real-life Bre-X geologist Michael de Guzman. Bre-X, for the purposes of the movie “Gold” is relocated to Reno, Nevada; it’s here where the leading characters enter into business together and decide to go for gold in Indonesia, close to where geologist Acosta had recently hit it big striking copper. Sleazy Kenny Wells pawns off his remaining valuables in order to take the trip, and makes Acosta complicit in his scheming. The general story of the scandal relayed in the above section is followed over the course of the film as Wells and Acosta become unable to resist the lure of gold and lust for fame, notoriety, and fortune.

When comparing the real Bre-X scandal with how it’s portrayed in “Gold”, the story seems better told on the silver screen. Raw emotion, wonder, and determination are well-captured by the character played by Matthew McConaughey, who, sleazy as he may be, is a true believer in his materialistic madness. Alongside both leading men is Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Kenny’s long suffering and abiding girlfriend – an unfortunately otherwise flat and two-dimensional character. Wells is a go-getter whereas Acosta is cool and inwardly driven, which makes the writers’ stab at an on-screen bromance fall flat. The male bonding experience is hard to buy whenever the chemistry of the two characters is based on Acosta’s cold spurning of Wells’s sentimentality toward their ventures. The narrative framing is effective, if a bit typical for this genre of film, but the script and writing itself still falls short of everything the film does well. In spite of the best efforts of an all-star cast and the brilliant framing and cinematography, “Gold” fails to shine; like the stock market scam, the movie doesn’t add up and leaves viewers wanting more.