Great actors, in most cases, make sure that you have a fairly good time just watching them, even when they are in a mediocre film. ‘Two for the money’ is nearly that kind of a case. It’s a film which came around the time Al Pacino was seriously delivering comeback performances. He received critical appreciation for his previous two performances; as playwright Tony Kushner in ‘Angels in America’ and as Shylock in Michael Radford’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and thus there was a returned confidence and ease in Pacino’s performance here. On the other hand, we had Matthew McConaughey who was still years away from his breakout performance, [which, in my opinion, would be ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’] but shows signs of a great actor. The film, however, stands nowhere close to the performances and couldn’t really turn into anything substantial. You can watch the trailer here.
Al Pacino is Walter Abrams, a sports betting magnate, who somehow discovers Brandon [McConaughey] and imports him to his territory in New York City. Brandon, a bloke from Vegas, who used to be deep into sports and had to quit following a leg injury, has a gift, the gift of anticipating a game’s fate. Walter is a sweet talker when he needs to be and thus he brings his guy to New York and turns him into a betting phenomenon, renaming Brandon as John Anthony, a name bettors blindly follow. There is one more important character and that is Toni [Rene Russo], Walter’s loving wife, who he uses on multiple occasions to play his little manipulative games.
This only means that not even Hollywood is immune to the sports betting thrill and with more than $150 billion placed on illegal bets, the sports betting industry in the USA is bound to grow in the future. These wagers are mostly spent on offshore websites like the ones listed on BettingTop10 or through bookies and are due to the 1992 federal prohibition on sports betting.
‘Two for the Money’ has an intimidating performance by Al Pacino; he owns every scene he is in. Dan Gilroy [who later directed the brilliant ‘Nightcrawler’] has written some great dialogues and the wisest ones are written for Walter. McConaughey as Brandon is occasionally brilliant when his character makes a shift between a humble newcomer and a confident betting advisor who takes arrogant risks that change the environment around him.
Two for the Money isn’t about the betting industry but the dynamics between its three central characters that happens to be in betting. Toni and Walter go back a long time and have seen each other’s life at worst. Walter and Brandon has a business relationship that goes beyond it, Walter admires the young guy for his gift but at times his contradictory behaviour makes you question the true nature of Walter. Does he really care about Brandon, or it is all part of a money game he is playing. On multiple occasions, he says to him “I am like a father to you” but whether he really means it is questionable. The relationship between Toni and Brandon is an interesting one because they are not really friends and not lovers either but there is some kind of sexual tension between the two which never surfaces but lies there making us uncomfortable and when I say us, it includes Walter.
The film doesn’t have occasional clichés but it is there all the time. It borrows from every movie about money and never manages to turn it into an influence of sorts but comes off as total imitation. The scenes where they are showing the extravaganzas of a betting industry, it looks funny rather than enticing. Two for the money has well written characters stuck together in an incoherent film.