Two for the Money

An unusually rich and realistic film

"There are two great pleasures in gambling: that of winning and that of losing." French proverb

All gamblers are losers; so we learn among other insights in Two for the Money.

If you want to see Al Pacino act over the top as Walter Abrams, the head of powerful football game "pick" empire, who hires former quarterback and 1-900 small-time "picking" success Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey) to join him in big-time picking for clients who are serious losers, you won't see it. (In "picking," no gambling laws are broken because pickers only "advise' clients, who do the actual gambling and freely give a percentage.) But you will see three accomplished actors, Pacino. McConaughey, and Rene Russo (as Walter's wife, Toni Morrow) live in their roles the way Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, and Betty Davis, to name only three of the old time greats, inhabited their roles and threw them in your face.

If you wonder why rich people risk their fortunes on betting, this is the film to see; if you wonder about Hollywood's ability to depict a real marriage of two people who love each other despite the cataclysmic atmosphere of his profession, then become a believer by seeing an unusually rich and realistic film.

The artistic unity is unusual. The notion of truthfully saying you're sorry is introduced in a tough guy scene, and then reprised with Walter and Toni. Truth seems endangered in one scene then uncovered to be authentic in another (this pattern happens several times). Family values override money and ambition for the three major players; in Brandon's case, it becomes a matter of figuratively "Who's your father" while in Walter's it's "Who'll be your son?" (Chinese proverb: "At the gambling table, there are no fathers and sons.")

The extreme fitness of Brandon counterpoints the weak heart of Walter, whose exercise is only making money. The heart is figurative as well as it becomes the final arbiter of happiness.

The film is good enough to recall other successful films: For instance, the camera tracks through the "pick parlor with its banks of computers recalling "Wall Street" and Michael Douglas's similar role to Pacino's; the shouting, manipulating sales operatives recall the real estate agents in "Glengary Glen Ross." The supercharged sports atmosphere is reminiscent of "Jerry Maguire" as is Cruise's vulnerable hotshot a model for McConaughey's.

McConaughey fulfills his promise as a major star in a role seemingly made for him. Pacino dares you to want him to go over the top but shows you how he can control himself. This is Pacino at his best since Scent of a Woman. You can bet on it.