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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.11%
Worth A Look: 37.84%
Pretty Bad: 5.41%
Total Crap: 8.11%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Two for the Money
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"It’s Only Gambling If You’re Losing"
4 stars

I not-so-secretly crave for movies that expose the backrooms of professions. They don’t necessarily have to just spill the dirt and wait for the inevitable denials in the press. It’s just like what Hitchcock said – “audiences will love any character if they are good at their job.” As a Vegas regular, gambling has always been at the forefront of fascination for me. You get into enough football pools and its easy to begin wondering which games (if any) have been fixed or how the bookies manage to get the spreads so damn close. There are exposes on news programs and enough behind-the-scenes whisperings if you know where to listen, but we are still waiting for the definitive feature on the subject of sports gambling. Two for the Money ain’t it. But it does earn its place amongst the list of films that understand what gambling is and how the downs of it may just be the up.

In a funny little twist on the All-American dream, the words “inspired by a true story” pops up over the slow-motion aspirations of a small-town kid playing the Big Three sports with his dad. Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) was on the verge of superstardom when a knee injury cut his dreams short. Living in Vegas and trying to keep his family afloat, he becomes a telemarketer who finds he has a knack for picking the winners on a handicapping service line. His talents attract NY sports service mogul, Walter Abrams (Al Pacino), who is determined to transform the cocky workout machine into “the Million Dollar Man”. The one-sixth of Col. Steve Austin with the superpowers of prognostication will become known as John Anthony.

Abrams’ small-time enterprise will quickly become a juggernaut under Brandon’s skills much to the chagrin of his former #1 boy, Jerry (Jeremy Piven), who uses computer systems to calculate his teams’ chances. Neither Walter nor Brandon ever gamble on their own knowledge; funny seeing how they go about getting rich clients to increase their wagers each week. Bigger bets equal bigger commissions. Walter is a reformed gambler (not even a coin flip since the 80s) with a dangerous heart condition and is watched over by Toni (Rene Russo), the wife he helped get out under the influence of drugs. Brandon is just a mama’s boy who won’t even use the F-word if he doesn’t have to. These three characters form an interesting dynamic that spins the film off into directions we may not have expected as we kept our eyes watching the money.

Walter is an archetype that Pacino has grappled onto in the past decade. When Liam Neeson isn’t playing mentors, Pacino has played father figure to Chris O’Donnell (Scent of a Woman), John Cusack (City Hall), Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco), Keanu Reeves (The Devil’s Advocate), Jamie Foxx (Any Given Sunday) and Colin Farrell (The Recruit). Now with McConaughey, Pacino could have just phoned in another part-time sleepy, part-time manic advisor but instead revels in Walter’s flaws and vices. Pacino never met a speech opportunity he couldn’t pounce on (and next to Christopher Walken – probably our finest over-the-top orator) and he has some of his most priceless rants here since playing Lucifer.

But there is one speech in Two for the Money which, at first, comes off as just a clever moment of writing but lurks underneath the surface for the remainder of the film only to burst forth as the heart of Dan Gilroy’s script. Attending a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting, Walter breaks down the bettor’s philosophy not just into wins and losses or the moment just before those highs and lows, but what comes after. It’s the period immediately after, when the games are over and the last ditch Monday Night bailout has past (precisely why it’s been so popular for 30 years) that the gambler comes upon their moment of Zen. They have lost – maybe lost big – but they are still alive and tomorrow is another day. It’s the heart of the recovery industry, taking stock of one’s personal inventory. Winning is not everyone’s idea of staying alive. Some people are just losers by choice. It’s not a disease. It’s the medicine.

Gilroy’s themes of addiction in their subliminal fashion overcome a plot which plays the numbers more often than an 85-year old Keno player. The rags-to-riches-back-to-rags story that serves as our guide is pretty basic stuff. It wouldn’t be so noticeable if there was more trade secrets than just a handicapping service being nothing more than glamorized stockbrokers. We’ve seen Wall Street and Boiler Room and the poor middle class guy who goes from owning a cleaning service to being taken to the cleaners in a matter of three scenes encapsulating uncertainty, jubilation and disaster. Just a scene or two of how the lines move so Vegas can collect an equal amount of juice into Brandon’s insight of football (instead of coin-flipping or wondering how he’s certain of a fellow employee’s picks) would have spiked up the intensity of the world. Even Armand Assante’s big fish player wanes out as a brief threat without any real resolution. Those not akin to the occasional bet won’t learn a thing about the art of handicapping. But since “the gambling gods are a fickle bunch” – maybe those doing the handicapping don’t know anymore anyway.

Addiction as a disease is overused in the movies almost as much as it is in society. It’s no more a disease as watching hammy Pacino performances is. Some people just like them. Others may object to pinning happiness to not conquering that addiction but living within it through winning. Two for the Money doesn’t come close in that fashion to the embarrassing depths of the infamous Ryan O’Neal expose, Fever Pitch, and not up to the lasting cult status of the poker world in Rounders. But, on the surface it’s not playing the same game. If the teams depicted barely know how to play it (throwing the ball with 40 seconds left while being up by 3?) how can the players watching it? As the characters and the film seem to be spiraling out of control, we lose touch with what we thought it was going to be like when we walked in, but slowly settle into a feeling of what is driving Walter, Brandon and Toni. It all comes down to that one last game, one that cannot possibly solve all their problems, but win or lose, will make them feel alive more than any pill, drink or cigarette can. That’s gambling.

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originally posted: 10/07/05 14:42:24
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User Comments

9/20/08 mr.mike Didn't care about sports , gambling or the characters. Paychecks for Al & Matt. 2 stars
1/14/07 chris not the kind of thing i usually watch but i enjoyed this 4 stars
12/07/06 ariaria al pacino turns anything he touches into gold! 5 stars
5/23/06 zaw Good Pacino! 5 stars
5/12/06 Jeff Bayless Good story but bad acting 3 stars
5/10/06 Nicole L. Too predictable and Pacino is annoying. 2 stars
1/30/06 WiseMan My Uncle got killed by Russian Mobsters To Gambling, So i can Relate to this movie. 5 stars
1/22/06 Jeff Anderson A big waste of talent & time(especially Pacino's)! This could & should have been great. 1 stars
10/12/05 Elizabeth S Pacino is always fascinating to watch -- interesting film. 3 stars
10/10/05 nayan its pacino so all you haters can go to hell 4 stars
10/09/05 rory not very good, not worth the 10 bucks i spend. Wait for this 1 to come out on cable... 3 stars
10/08/05 Kid_Chronic Erik Childress has no idea what gambling is, 2 for the $ is 100% inaccurate 1 stars
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  07-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 17-Jan-2006



Directed by
  D.J. Caruso

Written by
  Dan Gilroy

  Al Pacino
  Matthew McConaughey
  Rene Russo
  Jeremy Piven
  Armand Assante
  Jaime King

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