A couple of years ago, a cinematic event happened so wondrous, so monumental that you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about it. That event was The McConaissance, the return from rom-com and failed blockbuster obscurity of Texas’ finest Matthew McConaughey. Freed from the shackles of getting his shirt off and romancing some of Hollywood’s finest actresses, McConaughey excelled in Mud, Killer Joe, True Detective and his Oscar-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club.

But since that celebratory evening, the actor has found his subsequent projects fall a little short (Free State of Jones and The Sea of Trees flopped), but it’s with great relish (and relief) then to say that Gold is his return to top form – and the realms of “method” – with a superb performance that is one of the best of the year.

McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a down-on-his-luck prospector/businessmen who is looking for his next lucky break that might see him on the path to a vast fortune. Gold is his bag (baby) and believes that he knows just where to obtain the glistening rocks: the vast, deep forests of Indonesia. He calls on the help of famed geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) to help him plunder the depths of the rainforest in the hope that the untapped resource is the ticket to his and his long-time girlfriend Kay’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) dreams but his efforts don’t go unnoticed by the “big boys” of the industry and they want their cut.  

Related: Exclusive Interview with Matthew McConaughey on Free State of Jones and The Dark Tower

If his transformation for Dallas Buyers Club was startling, which saw him lose three stone, his latest metamorphosis is equally as impressive and helps elevate Gold from good to very good. Shedding the six-pack abs and toned muscular features we are accustomed too, McConaughey immerses himself quite literally into the body of Kenny Wells – gaining 45 pounds by eating pretty much anything he wanted and shaving the top of his head, it’s a long way removed from his “buff” roles. But it’s this kind of commitment that raises him above many of his counterparts and makes him one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors.

That said, for all the physical changes you need a living, breathing soul underneath that brings the character and his essence to life and McConaughey does just that – he’s a whirlwind of wit and enthusiasm and although for the most part you wonder if his thirst for wealth is going to be Kenny’s ultimate downfall, he is never anything but supremely compelling as a character.

Matthew McConaughey - Gold

Almost as surprising as McConaughey’s appearance is that of helmer Stephen Gaghan, who had seemingly vanished from the filmmaking scene in the last decade. His previous film, 2003’s Syriana, showed a lot of promise after transitioning from screenwriter to director but has only now found his follow-up, bar a couple of television films. But while such a break might be cause for concern, Gaghan handles proceedings impressively well and infuses the film with great energy. Coupled with Patrick Massett and John Zinman’s snappy screenplay, there’s a great sense of fun to be had alongside the more taut scenes in boardrooms and bars that gives the generic “American Dream” story a renewed potency.

While the basis of Gold has been told many times over in Hollywood, this one has a freshness to it that makes it supremely watchable. Funny and fast-paced and anchored by another mesmeric performance from Matthew McConaughey, this is a slice of gold worth digging for.