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October 2005
Two for the Money

By Wilson Morales
Two for the Money

Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: D.J. Caruso
Producers: Jay Cohen, David G. Robinson, And James G. Robinson
Screenwriter: Dan Gilroy
Cinematographer: Conrad W. Hall
Composer: Christopher Beck
Cast: Al Pacino, Matthew McConaughey, Rene Russo, Armand Assante, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King
Screened at: Loews 84th Theater, NYC


The thing about films involving sports that gets many to come to see it is that we, the audience, want to see the guts and glory of winning or losing a game. From football to baseball or even golf, many films give you the rise and fall and rise again of a superstar. "Two for the Money" is a sports film. While the action isn't seen on the playing field, there's plenty that happens off it. Pacino, who revels in playing the leader or father figure to a hot shot as he did in "Any Given Sunday" as well as "The Devil's Advocate", once again plays a similar role but does so with ease and compassion and ignites the film when on-screen. A tad long in delivery, "Two For the Money" is a sucker's bet with a heart of gold. With Pacino acting without restraint, you can't lose on this film.

Brandon Lang (McConaughey) thought his life would be set financially. A superstar college football player with a shot to the NFL, he gambled on a play and paid dearly as he got injured was never drafted. Poor and living with his mom, Brandon did some odd jobs while working hard to get a shot back at playing football. One of his jobs was working as a small time bookie picking football games and being a moderate success at it. When his winning picks become consistent, it attracted the attention of Walter Abrams (Pacino), the owner of a sports gambling business. He recruits Lang into his company and makes him his right hand man as he sees Lang as "the chosen one" who could land the company big business and wealthy clients. Lang takes up the offer, takes the name of John Anthony as a quick sell and instantly becomes the success Abrams predicted, much to the chagrin of fellow co-worker and Abrams' former right-hand (Pivens). With Abrams's wife (Russo), a former drug addict, serving as a conscious and go-between for her husband, Lang is kept at bay until success reach its peak and the downfall begins. With Abrams pressuring him to keep up the game of picking winners and clients losing money and wanting payback, Lang is deep in debt with morality issues.

This is a Pacino film where you actually don't mind his infamous rants. You know it's going to come, but will it be overbearing? In this film, Pacino knows how to work his character. Walter is a middle age man with a heart condition and can die at any moment and Pacino plays the role with a lot of zest. McConaughey, who is physically right for the part, plays his role with some empathy of the profession. Every athlete wants to be good at their game and also wants to make a lot of money from it, and with McConaughey does a good job in displaying the need to be successful. Russo is the weak link here. Russo, who also serves as the executive producer of the film, is the one character you can't realty connect with. You don't know where she stands as things begins to spiral downward with her husband, and yet she's supposed to be the glue that holds him and them together. Also, Armand Assante plays the heavy as if he's in some cartoon. Characters such as Pivens and James King's are given little to do and one could sense that some editing to keep the focus on the two leads. The pace of the film is kinetic as we see many cuts between sporting games and the transition of Brandon Lang the lucky guy to John Anthony the shark. In the sports gambling business, there are winners and losers and we don't actually get to see the true effects of what gamblers will do to keep their pace going. We do get a glimpse of how bookies sell the aspects of winning and with Pacino as an unemotional boss, "Two for the Money" works in many ways. Flawed but engaging, the film is still a good treat to watch.