Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Two for the Money (2005)

I have to get something out of the way: If you're an Al Pacino fan, you have to see this movie. He is terrific in this movie, acting up a storm but not at the detriment of the story or the players around him. And if you're a Matthew McConaughey fan, yep, you've got to see this movie, as he portrays himself (or what we believe to be the outgoing, ultra charming McConaughey) better in this film than any other. And, yes, if you're a Rene Russo fan, you should see this film, as she plays someone we've never seen before.

But if you bet on sports, you probably don't want to see this movie. It'll make you cringe every time you see someone, yourself maybe, take the chump bet and raise the stakes, throwing good money after bad, time after time. If you've ever been tempted to bet on sports, get involved with the "big boys," this movie might make you turn your little Honda around and drive away from Vegas.

McConaughey's character is a two-bit 900 operator who sells things from a script when he is suddenly plopped onto a sports advice line. But this is the little money. He is discovered by bigger operator Al Pacino, who sees McConaughey as the guy who can accurately pick 75% of college and pro football wins, over and under.

It's a great introduction to the $2 billion business of the sports bet: Pacino's operation is shown as a multi-level stone building where the operators take $25 bets on the first floor, rising finally to the big bets on top. He sets up McConaughey in his own rent-free apartment in the building, and, watching his apprentice soar, decides to build him into a cable T.V. personality to go for the big money. And you can predict the trend here, as trends always come and go in betting: you win some, you lose some. The highs are incredibly high, and lows are down, down, down. And this film shows that well, perhaps losing the feel-good that some might think should come with a story about the mental and emotional side of gambling.

Two for the Money is based on a real-life odds-maker. He swears in the extra on the DVD that he never bet on sports, as does the McConaughey character, as that would erase his objectivity. We don't really know about the truth in all of this, but the fictionalized version of his story is fascinating, especially when you throw two scene eaters in like Pacino and McConaughey.

Thumb's up.


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