For thousands of years, there’s been no better way to change your life in an instant than by finding a big lump of gold. Even a small chunk of it can solve all your problems (well, the financial ones at least). French drama Ouro: Amazon Gold features a lost mine that’s supposedly full of the stuff. Here’s why watching the characters' search is almost as thrilling as going for gold yourself.
Welcome to the jungle
French geology student Vincent (Mathieu Spinosi) is looking down the barrel of an abrupt end to his less-than-stellar academic career when he’s thrown the kind of lifeline that just might have an anchor at the other end: an internship at Cayenor, a gold mining company in French Guiana, South America. For 10 years, no student has accepted this offer – after all, French Guiana used to be where France sent her convicts – but for Vincent, the jungle swiftly becomes a place where he can reinvent himself and get rich quick. Of course, finding a fortune in such a place is one thing, getting out with it alive is a much bigger problem.
It’s like Breaking Bad, only with gold
In French Guiana, Vincent soon teams up with Antoine Serra (Olivier Rabourdin), the local publican and “godfather of gold”, who’s spent the last 20 years establishing himself as a central figure in the twilight world of gold smuggling. Vincent might have the technical know-how, but Serra is the one with the connections and the criminal skills, and they’ll have to work together to exploit Vincent’s hunch that a played-out mine lost for 120 years will turn out to be a million-dollar gold seam.
It’s an almost father-son relationship that has more than a whiff of the Walter White (Bryan Cranston)/Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) relationship in Breaking Bad about it as it develops throughout the series. There’s a bond between them that goes beyond the fact they need each other to get rich, but is that bond stronger than the gold fever they share?
It’s a Western… well, more of a South-Western
There’s a mix of action movie and crime thriller going on here, but the biggest influence as far as the story goes is the Wild Wild West. French Guiana is portrayed here as a lawless frontier, a place where people end up when they’ve run out of chances. Serra basically runs a Wild West saloon with the gun-slinging Louis (Issaka Sawadogo) as his henchman, the local prospectors are, well, prospectors and rough-and ready mining camps provide the setting for much of the trouble.
What makes all this so interesting is the way the traditional Western merges seamlessly with the modern-day setting. It’s a story about archetypes, where, given the same conditions, the same characters rise to the top. It might be the 21st century but it’s still a place on the edge of the world where there’s great wealth to be made. Is it any wonder the same kind of characters reveal themselves?
Adventure isn’t dead
Once Vincent and Serra join forces, it’s not simply a matter of them finding the mine and extracting the gold. Ambushes, shoot-outs and traps are just a part of doing business (well, their kind of business) in this part of the world, resulting in a fast-paced series that balances out the moments of well-crafted character drama with a hefty dose of action.
Vincent and Serra aren’t the only ones looking to strike it lucky in the jungle. Local prospectors and Brazilian professionals are both after the exact same thing, and in a lawless zone where guns and trained killers are in plentiful supply, it’s not like anyone is in a hurry to take their disputes to the courts.
Location location location
Shot on location in French Guiana, Ouro’s big advantage over other action series is the scenery. Having the real jungle as a backdrop gives this tale of shady men and the gold fever that drives them an immediacy that lifts it above the usual run of crime dramas. There’s a real sense here of man against nature at its most primal; of people trying to wrestle with an unforgiving country – such an extreme environment really underlines the desperation of the characters. They wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a whole lot of money to be made and the only people who would go there are the kinds of people for whom the chance to make a fortune is worth risking everything.
The first series of Ouro: Amazon Gold is streaming now on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode here: