Two For The Money (2005)

DVD Cover (Universal)
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Overall Rating 62%
Overall Rating
Ranked #2,200
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Brandon Lang loves football: an injury keeps him from the pros, but his quarterback's anticipation makes him a brilliant predictor of games' outcomes. Needing money, he leaves Vegas for Manhattan to work for Walter Abrams advising gamblers. Walter has a doting wife, a young daughter, and a thriving business, but he has problems: a bum heart, a belief he's a master manipulator, and addictions barely kept in check. He remakes Brandon, and a father-son relationship grows. Then, things go awry. Walter may be running a con. The odds against Brandon mount. --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 11, 2005
Talk about a shocker. I went into "Two for the Money" with the expectations that the film would fall flat on its ass, but after yet another entertaining outing from the always unpredictable Al Pacino. I expected the film to come off as a cheap imitation of films like "Wall Street" and "Glengarry Glen Ross". Much to my amazement, "Two for the Money" turned out to be one hell of an entertaining film -- a creative and unique take on the betting industry. The directing style was perfect for the subject matter and I found D.J. Caruso's storytelling ability to be top notch -- he came off like an everyman's Brett Ratner. "Two for the Money" weaved up and down, all over the map, with action, intrigue, humor, and drama. I had no idea this film was going to be more about relationships and friendships than the betting itself, but it was, which is why I suspect Pacino probably took the role. It is not rare to see him in a role like this; what is rare is to see him in a role like this, with depth. In this film, his character is not the bad guy, as the trailer would have you believe. He is a man, facing his own demons, who wants what is best for he and his family. Matthew McConaughey becomes something of a son to him, and vice versa. "Two for the Money" is one of the better films I have seen in 2005, and a true acting tour de force.

In his best role to date, Matthew McConaughey stars as Brandon Lang. A former high school and college football star, he finds himself working 1-900 numbers when his knee blows out, dashing all future prospects. By chance, he begins operating the betting line at work and starts making lots of people lots of money. This sparks the interest of the biggest sports adviser in the country, Walter Abrams (Al Pacino). He brings Brandon to New York City to work for him, planning to build an empire around him, even changing his name to John Anthony and giving him some of the best betters in the world. Everyone is riding high. Brandon is not only Walter's protege, but also somewhat of a son to him. Walter's wife Toni (Rene Russo) loves him very much, but is always worried he has started gambling again. She is also worried about his health, as Walter's heart seems to be in terrible shape. When Brandon starts falling short on his picks, it tests not only his ability as a handicapper, but also his ties to Walter and the company. But, don't be fooled -- "Two for the Money" is all about the relationship between Brandon, Walter, and Toni. It is more a family drama.

What a surprise to find a film with so much depth and so much power, especially when the trailer would have you believe it is just another lousy action flick. There are some fine scenes in this film between Pacino and McConaughey, showing off both of their ranges as actors. Take, for instance, a scene where Pacino fakes a massive heart attack in order to get McConaughey ready for an approaching client. Look how worried McConaughey is, and when he tells Pacino he loves him, he means it. They both genuinely love one another. It is a father/son relationship that is formed, and it is that relationship that keeps Pacino from coming off as just another bad guy. He is not a bad guy. He loves his work, he loves his family, and he loves the new addition to the office. He loves living on the edge, but he loves his security even more. Look at Pacino when he is with his family as opposed to when he is working at the office. He does everything he does at the office for his family, so he does not have to be that way when he gets home. There is another scene where Pacino takes his new friend to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, only to deliver a monologue as to why they are all there, followed by his passing out business cards to the afflicted. He is not a man with much tact or savvy, but he certainly has commitment and will.

This film thrives off Pacino's performance. He has never looked more vibrant on the screen and he looks like he is having the time of his life. "The Devil's Advocate" was a terrible film, but Pacino lit the screen on fire with his energy and his zeal for the role. He does the same here, but more so. His chemistry with McConaughey is incredible, and McConaughey is absolutely perfect as the cocky, ambitious adviser who just wants to make as much money as possible. Their bond in the film glues it all together and makes it work. Alas, with Rene Russo to anchor down the action with a little human drama, it would be half-hearted. She is luminous here, and I just wish she would take more roles. Throughout the entire film, you can tell that all she wants is to make sure her husband is all right. She loves him dearly and this is so evident in the way she tolerates his behavior. The smart thing was to give us all some back-story on her character, and Pacino's. She admits in the film that she was once a junkie, but Pacino pulled her off the street. Part of her probably wants to keep him safe because he has kept her safe for so many years. As far as the rest of the performances go, if he was on screen long enough, I would certainly recommend a stern Best Supporting Actor nomination for Armand Assante. He is only in two scenes in the film, but he is electric. I had forgotten about his even existing until I saw him come on the screen, and he was just an absolute pleasure to watch again.

Don't be fooled by the trailers, "Two for the Money" is as real and unique as they come, from the opening scenes of McConaughey's younger days, to the "Boiler Room" simulated work environments that make you feel like you are right there in the action with the characters. These are characters you grow to care about, despite all of their flaws, and there are plenty of them. Pacino might be a hard-nosed bastard, but he loves his wife and daughters and just wants for their well-being. McConaughey might be an over confident prick, but he just wants a father figure in his life, and a little taste of happiness. "Two for the Money" gave me 120 minutes of the kind of drama that I love to see -- the kind that seems real and the kind that seems true. A normal film like this would have ended with Pacino getting what was coming to him, and McConaughey and Russo running off together. That is not real life. In real life, these kinds of relationships are not broken that easily, especially when there is this kind of love and connection there. This was one of the best films of the year and a true joy to watch unfold. Make this movie a must see this weekend.

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