Money Makes McConaughey go Round
The charisma of Al Pacino, the southern tones of Matthew McConaughey and the sexiness of Rene Russo, "Two for the Money" certainly has talent and that talent works because they draw you into this story of sports betting. But whilst on face value "Two for the Money" is entertaining, carrying you along on a wave of energy it is a movie of little depth, despite being inspired by a true story. It draws you into the slick world of sports betting, mesmerizing you with the way huge stake betting works, how the betting touts manipulate punters and so on but the pay off is missing. By the time "Two for the Money" ends you will have been entertained by the pitch, the power and the Pacino but you will be left wondering how it got to the pay off.
Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey - How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) is on the verge of making it big as a football player when an injury ends his season. Forced to make ends meet whilst recuperating he takes a job recording betting advice for a phone service and his ability to get it right brings him to the attention of Walter Abrams (Al Pacino - S1m0ne) who runs one of the biggest gambler advisory services. Before he knows it Brandon has left Vegas and is working in Manhattan where the charismatic Walter teaches him the art of manipulating punters, refining him into the finished article. But when things turn a bit bad Brandon becomes suspicious of Walter and his wife Toni (Rene Russo - Lethal Weapon 4), wondering whether all is as simple as it seems.
The thing about "Two for the Money" is that the storyline is all rather obvious. Get past the set up as we watch Brandon ending up working for a phone service as a sports predictor and what follows all feels very familiar. From the moment Brandon meets Walter you know this relatively naive young man will be mesmerized by the slick talking Walter and will end up becoming his prodigy. At the same time thanks to a bit of history Walter becomes the father figure with Brandon never had. As such the outcome of this relationship is obvious, you know that at some point Brandon will realise that being around Walter is dangerous but he will also realise that he's no longer the man he once was.
But being quite obvious isn't a major issue and nor are the various glaring plot holes because "Two for the Money" is all about seducing us by the way the world of sports betting works. The whole slickness of the operation, the energy in the offices and of course the charisma of Walter draws us in as if he is trying to seduce us to become part of his team. But it is fascinating because we do learn things, how punters are hooked in with free advice and guaranteed bets to make them clients, how it's all about the Hollywood pitch to grab a punters attention within seconds before they go. It's because of this and the comical audacity of Walter to try and pitch his gambling service at a gamblers anonymous meeting which entertains and keeps us watching.
A lot of why "Two for the Money" works is down to Al Pacino and whilst as Walter he is playing a familiar character which he has played countless times before no one delivers that devilish charm, and sales pitch banter better. It works because Walter oozes charm and confidence, audaciously doing stuff no one else would dare to do and in the way Walter seduces Brandon it is Al Pacino who seduces us. But on top of this Pacino delivers that element of uncertainty, the ambiguity that makes us think not is all as it seems, he leads us to question as to whether this is all some big con, whether or not he really is ill or just uses the dodgy heart and cough to con people.
Al Pacino is not the only one who delivers a good performance as he also gets the best out of Matthew McConaughey as Brandon. Like with Pacino, McConaughey is playing a familiar character full of easy going southern charm and the various scenes which see McConaughey working out or walking out bare chested seem a little too familiar. But it works because Brandon is likeable, we enjoy watching him become this slick operator yet also understand that whilst being mesmerised by Walter also sees him as a substitute father figure. Sadly whilst Rene Russo is solid and oozes sexiness as Walter's wife Toni she is seriously underused, adding to the ambiguity of whether it is some huge con in the few scenes she gets.
But here is the thing whilst you do get caught up in the slickness of it all, enjoying Al Pacino's and McConaughey's audacity when it comes to the world of betting, the actual pay off is not that great. And it is the pay off which ends up spoiling "Two for the Money" because for 80% of the movie it's all about the glitz and the glory and then suddenly it plucks and ending out of almost thin air. This is an ending which in part is obvious as we watch what happens to McConaughey's character but then the other part, what happens to Pacino's character feels wrong. Maybe the writer felt some moral obligation to show the other side of the betting industry but what he comes up with feels tacked on and an after thought having wowed us with the gloss of the smooth operation.
What this all boils down to is that "Two for the Money" draws you in to the slickness of the sports betting world, you become entertained by Brandon basically being seduced by the charming Walter and you enjoy how together they start raking in the money thanks to Brandon's ability to predict results. But that is pretty much all there is as whilst there is a certain amount of ambiguity over whether it's all some huge con it is a movie which sadly lacks any real depth.