Don't Bet on It
Two for the Money showcases a gambler’s self-destructive behavior and the pain it causes for people who care about him. Set in the fast-moving world of sports-betting, the story revolves around the manipulative owner of a betting advisory company and his hotshot protégé, as played by Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey, respectively. However, because I couldn't understand how the betting business depicted here operates, the movie didn't always work for me.
Still, I do know something about gambling, having personally witnessed its overwhelming allure, and Pacino’s performance rings true to me. With those dark circles under his even darker eyes, he looks every bit the picture of a man with an addictive personality. It's not easy for the character he plays to avoid temptation and to stay away from old bad habits. Acting with all his nerve ends exposed, Oscar-winner Pacino (for Scent of a Woman) displays a frenetic energy and manic behavior extremely uncomfortable to watch -- but it’s definitely a performance to admire. Rife with his trademark gravelly-voiced outbursts, his show-stopping monologue at a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting emerges as vintage Pacino.
Current heartthrob McConaughey (who always leaves me wondering about his popularity) is no match for Pacino in the acting department. He looks too much like he’s trying to act instead of actually doing it. In Two for the Money, his character seems the same no matter how many changes he’s supposed to be going through after Pacino gives him an authority-laden name ("John Anthony") and a new image.
McConaughey portrays a former football star whose athletic career was ruined by an injury -- but whose incredible gift for picking winners attracts Pacino. McConaughey never gambles himself; he earns money by enabling others to do so with the picks he suggests. When his gift begins to wane, he wonders if living up to the sophisticated all-knowing “John Anthony” image is worth the effort. Will Pacino let him quit? Don’t bet on it. There may be more than money at risk here.
Which brings us back to the confusing sports-betting advisory business. How do “advisors” collect their money? I realize customers pay a fee to call the phone numbers and receive betting selections, but how do these advisors know if the callers place their bets as recommended in order to collect the commissions agreed upon? I wish Two for the Money spent more time explaining this process, mostly because not knowing how it works interfered with my concentration on the rest of the film.
Another disturbing aspect of this movie is its lack of sympathetic characters. There’s no one to root for. Rene Russo as Pacino’s long-suffering wife comes close, but she’s a bit hard to believe. Although not every movie must feature characters I like in order to gain my approval (see my review of American Psycho), I need to be intrigued by what the people involved are doing, and that doesn’t happen in Two for the Money.
Despite my complaints, Pacino fans should not miss this one.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “R” for pervasive language, a scene of sexuality and a violent act.)