All Research

Gold: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard | based on the true story of the Bre-X mining scandal in the mid-1990s

Matthew McConaughey
Born: November 4, 1969
Uvalde, Texas, USA
David Walsh
Born: August 11, 1945
Birthplace: Montréal, Québec, Canada
Death: June 4, 1998, Nassau, Bahamas (brain aneurysm)
Edgar Ramírez
Born: March 25, 1977
Caracas, Venezuela
Michael de Guzman
Born: abt 1955
Birthplace: Philippines
Death: March 19, 1997, Busang, Indonesia (likely suicide)
The most fantastical elements of the story are the most accurate. They’re the true parts! -Gold Screenwriter Patrick Masset, Financial Post, January 2017

Questioning the Story:

Was the mining company really based out of Reno, Nevada?

No, the real company, Bre-X Minerals Ltd., founded by David Walsh (renamed Kenny Wells in the movie), was a small Calgary-based mining company. It was so small that Walsh initially ran it out of his basement. For legal reasons and to make the story more appealing, the movie relocates the company to Reno, Nevada and calls it Washoe Mining Inc. after Washoe County where Reno is located. -Financial Post

The Gold movie changes the name and location of the real company. Calgary-based Bre-X Minerals Ltd. becomes Washoe Mining Inc. based out of Reno, Nevada.

Did the true story happen in the late 1980s?

No. While fact-checking the Gold movie, we discovered that the filmmakers transplanted the story to the late 1980s. The Bre-X Minerals scandal actually happened in the mid-1990s.

Was David Walsh's company nearly broke before he "found" gold in Indonesia?

Yes. "Basically, Bre-X was a shell of a company with almost nonexistent working capital," said David Walsh (the real Kenny Wells) in a March 1997 interview. The Gold true story reveals that prior to his success with Bre-X, Walsh had declared personal bankruptcy in June 1992, $200,000 in debt. "I decided to go into Indonesia, and that's where we started from, just an idea, no money, and a very good geologist." -CBC News

Was the supposed gold find really located in a very remote region of a Borneo jungle?

Yes. In 1995, the small Canadian mining company Bre-X claimed a massive gold find deep in the jungle in the Busang area on the Indonesian island of Borneo. Former Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald journalist Suzanne Wilton, who in 2007 traveled to where the notorious gold mine had been located, called it "an incredible journey," saying, "It was five hours overland through forestry concessions in the middle of Borneo, and then another five hours by boat up this raging river to a place that didn't exist on maps. We could have fallen out of the canoe that we were riding in and nobody would have ever found us." It was "the middle of the jungle, the farthest community away you could get, in a place that was shrouded in mystery." -CBC News

This map denotes the location of Bre-X's supposed gold find in Borneo, Indonesia. Click to zoom in and explore.

Is Bryce Dallas Howard's character Kay based on a real person?

Not exactly. David Walsh (the real-life Kenny Wells) did not have a girlfriend named Kay like Matthew McConaughey's character does in the movie. Instead, David Walsh had a wife, Jeannette, who had helped him start Bre-X out of the basement of their Calgary home in 1987. She eventually held the title of corporate secretary, but after being named in a lawsuit following the company's 1997 collapse, she claimed she was nothing more than a typist.

How did the real Kenny Wells and Michael Acosta meet?

As indicated by the photos at the top of this page, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is based on Canadian businessman David Walsh (Matthew McConaughey's character was originally named Kenny Walsh in early iterations of the script). -Financial Post

While Edgar Ramírez's character, Michael Acosta, seems to be primarily based on Filipino geologist Michael de Guzman, the character is actually a composite of two individuals, Michael de Guzman and John Felderhof (pictured below). De Guzman needed a fellow geologist to corroborate his story, so he shared news of his "find" with Felderhof, a then-respected geologist. De Guzman convinced Felderhof they should look for an investor who wouldn't interfere too much. Felderhof recommended David Walsh, the penny stock promoter of Bre-X who he'd met in Australia ten years prior. Felderhof knew Walsh had been looking for a potential mining project. Felderhof and De Guzman took Walsh out to dinner and convinced him to invest $80,000 to purchase and develop a gold mining site near the Busang River in Borneo (

Dutch-born geologist John Felderhof (left) was the other part of the composite that inspired Edgar Ramírez's character, Michael Acosta. The character was predominately based on Filipino geologist Michael de Guzman.

Did geologist Michael de Guzman "salt" the gold samples with shavings from his wedding ring?

Yes. It's a fascinating detail that's left out of the film. Portrayed by Edgar Ramírez in the movie, the real Michael de Guzman took core samples from the ground, which were supposedly from the Borneo site. After the samples were crushed and collected, De Guzman made sure he had some alone time with them before they were sent to be analyzed. He shaved gold flakes from his wedding ring and mixed them in with the samples (at a ratio of approximately 3 oz of gold per ton of rock). The deceptive scheme is called "salting" and it is hardly uncommon. Later, when he ran out of gold from his ring, he paid locals for their river gold, buying up $61,000 worth of panned gold over the following two-and-a-half years.

What motivated Michael de Guzman to commit fraud?

In an industry dominated by big American mining companies, Michael de Guzman struggled for recognition in his field. Despite being very intelligent and having an engineering degree, De Guzman never got a shot at a high-paying job. In researching the Gold movie true story, we learned that it was very hard for Filipinos, even with the right credentials, to get senior jobs with the big mining companies. -Masterminds: Fool's Gold

Gold the movie includes some of the crazier elements of the real story, while changing the names, time period, and the location of David Walsh's company.

Is FBI agent Paul Jennings based on a real person?

No. Since the mining company at the heart of the scandal was actually based out of Canada and not the U.S. like in the movie, Canadian authorities investigated the real case. Toby Kebbell's character is fictional.

Was Michael de Guzman (Michael Acosta in the movie) married in real life?

Yes. The movie implies Edgar Ramírez's character is not married, when in fact, the real Michael de Guzman had at least four wives all around Asia. His frequent traveling allowed him to keep them a secret from one another. In order to put more focus on the story's main plot points, screenwriters John Zinman and Patrick Massett had to omit this interesting fact. After De Guzman's death, his widows began to find out about each other. -Financial Post

How much were Bre-X stock shares worth at their peak?

In 1993, geologists John Felderhof and Michael de Guzman convinced Bre-X founder David Walsh to buy an area of land in the middle of the jungle not far from the Busang River in Borneo, Indonesia. Bre-X had been a penny stock, but as the estimated amount of gold at the site went from 2 million Troy ounces to a whopping 70 million ounces a few years later in 1997, the stock price climbed to $280 per share. Bre-X Minerals Ltd. reached a market value of $6 billion. Of course, it was all a hoax, spurred on by De Guzman manipulating (salting) the core samples from the site. The discovery was a lie.

Displayed above is a Bre-X Minerals Ltd. stock certificate. Inset: Bre-X's share price plunges upon the March 1997 news that the landmark gold find is likely not true.

Is the mining tycoon played by Bruce Greenwood based on a real person?

No. Fact-checking the Gold movie revealed that Bruce Greenwood's character, mining bigwig Mark Hancock, was intended to be a composite of various mining tycoons who fought for control of the deposit. These real-life bigshots included Norman B. Keevil of Teck Resources Ltd., among others.

Did the real Kenny Wells have to touch a tiger to close a deal?

No. In real-life, David Walsh (the real Kenny Wells) never had to touch a tiger to close a deal. However, for the movie scene, Matthew McConaughey did actually touch a tiger. "They scheduled this scene where I touch this tiger the last scene in the film," says McConaughey. "Now, if you know anything about scheduling, that means if something goes down you've got all of McConaughey's stuff, have already got the footage, so it's okay. ... Yeah, I did touch this tiger, and I'm not acting in this scene. I'm scared. I'm sweating." -Good Morning America

Did the Indonesian government really try to get in on the action?

Yes. The Indonesian government under President Suharto (pictured below) noticed the escalating worth of the site. The government stated that a small outfit like Bre-X would have to share the site with a larger company, and the government chose one with ties to President Suharto's family, a Canadian company called Barrick. Suharto brought in his longtime friend and powerful Indonesian businessman Muhammad "Bob" Hasan, who then set up a deal to also bring in an American company, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, to run part of the site. The deal gave Husan and Freeport nearly half of Bre-X's share in the gold find. When Freeport-McMoRan stepped in to do their own evaluation of the site, everything began to unravel, with the biggest question being, where's the gold?

As the estimated size of the deposit grew, Indonesian President Suharto (left) wanted a share of the find. Background: A newspaper reports on the ensuing disputes that David Walsh (right) and his company Bre-X faced.

How much money did David Walsh, Michael de Guzman, and John Felderhof walk away with?

Before the collapse, Walsh, De Guzman and Felderhof sold off a small portion of their options for over $100 million. In the Gold movie, Michael De Guzman and John Felderhof are combined into one character, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez). He is the only one who dumps any stock in the movie. -Masterminds: Fool's Gold

Did Michael de Guzman really plummet to his death from a helicopter?

Yes. Filipino geologist Michael de Guzman, who is renamed Michael Acosta and portrayed by Edgar Ramírez in the movie, did perish after plummeting into the Borneo jungle from a helicopter. I use the word "plummet" because even though many believe he jumped to his death, some believe he was pushed (or even faked his death altogether). It depends on who you ask. However, the motive for suicide was certainly there. Not only was his gold mining scam about to unravel, he was suffering from hepatitis B, a potentially painful sexually transmitted liver infection. In one of his hastily written suicide notes, he stated that he could no longer bear his illnesses. Yet, some have speculated, as the movie does, that the suicide notes were part of his plan to fake his death. His sister claims that he was given a clean bill of health just weeks before he died.

De Guzman knew things were on the verge of unraveling. He had boarded the helicopter to head to the Borneo site to meet with miners from Freeport-McMoRan, the company that the government had brought on board to run a large portion of the mine. He knew he would be unable to explain why there was no gold at the site. According to reports, it was only he and the pilot on the helicopter. The Indonesian military did not accompany him like in the movie.

Was Michael de Guzman's body really eaten by wild boars?

This is the most popular theory for the state his body was found in. After he plummeted from the helicopter to the jungle floor below, his body was discovered with his innards hollowed out and his genitalia gone. Reports state that his body was also handless, footless and faceless (Financial Post). Journalist Jennifer Wells, who had been sent to Borneo and was shown pictures of De Guzman's dead body, believes that his neatly sutured corpse seemed inconsistent with one that had been ravaged by a wild animal. Could De Guzman have been tortured and murdered before plummeting from the helicopter? Was it even his body? We'll likely never know. -Toronto Star

The half-eaten, decomposing body of who is believed to be geologist Michael de Guzman (left) is lowered by a helicopter after it was retrieved from the jungle.

How much did the Bre-X scandal cost investors around the world?

After the largest gold fraud of the century was exposed on March 26, 1997, Bre-X went bankrupt and its shares became worthless. The scandal cost investors an estimated $3 billion. -CBC News

Was anybody ever punished for the Bre-X gold mining scandal?

No. Michael de Guzman (Edgar Ramírez in the movie), the man who was "salting" the samples of earth with gold shavings, leaped to his death from a helicopter — or was shoved, depending on who you believe. Geologist and Bre-X's Vice-President for Exploration, John Felderhof (folded into Edgar Ramírez's character in the movie), denied any knowledge of the fraud. He faced insider trading charges but was later acquitted. As for Bre-X Minerals founder and Canadian businessman David Walsh (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey), he too claimed he was swindled by De Guzman. He moved to the Bahamas in 1998. Walsh (pictured below) died of a brain aneurysm on June 4, 1998. The final two lawsuits involving the Bre-X scandal were dismissed on April 23, 2014 (

Chain-smoking geologist David Walsh (left) inspired Matthew McConaughey's Kenny Wells character.

Could Michael de Guzman still be alive?

The Gold movie leaves De Guzman's death open to interpretation, including the possibility that he faked his death and paid someone to dump a body into the jungle. This seems to be the least likely theory, even though the ravaged and badly decomposing body that was found was never identified. -Going for Gold: The History of Newmont Mining Corporation

After he disappeared, did Michael de Guzman mail David Walsh a check for $82 million?

No. This is pure speculation. The movie uses the check as a way to show that Edgar Ramírez's character indeed valued his friendship with Kenny Wells (David Walsh in real life). It also leads us to believe that Ramírez's character might still be alive. In reality, Walsh, De Guzman and John Felderhof had already sold off over $100 million in stock options before things went south. However, it could not be proven whether this meant that David Walsh and John Felderhof were in on the scam with De Guzman.

Are there still people who believe there is gold in the former Bre-X area of the Borneo jungle?

Yes. "It was pretty amazing to go back to the place where it really happened, and hike into the jungle, where there were still people panning for gold," says journalist Suzanne Wilton, who visited the former Bre-X area of the Borneo jungle in 2007. "There are many people who still believe there is gold in this jungle." -CBC News

Bre-X Scandal Documentary & Related "Gold" Videos

Dig further into the Gold true story by watching the Bre-X mining scandal documentary below.

Link-to-Learn More: