I'm sure you've all seen somebody do an Al Pacino impression. Maybe you were watching "Scent of a Woman" and a friend lets out a hearty, "Hoo-ha." Heck, you've probably done one yourself. After viewing "Two for the Money", it felt like I was watching an imitation of Al Pacino rather than the man himself. You know what? Big Al on cruise control is still more fun to watch than some actors at full speed.
Matthew McConaughey tries his best to keep up as Brandon Lang, the All-American pretty boy who excels at sports to please an errant father. Lang's NFL dreams are dashed when he suffers a grisly injury in a scene that mirrors the career-ending injury of Joe Theismann.
Lang ekes out a meager living recording messages on 900 numbers in Las Vegas, while still trying out for pros. He receives rejection after rejection. When a co-worker fails to show, Lang is chosen to pick the winners for that weekend's games and discovers his true calling. His penchant for predicting outcomes catches the eye of Walter Abrams (Pacino), the Gordon Gekko of sports gambling.
As Abrams explains, sports betting is a 200 billion dollar a year business, but its illegal in 49 states. However, asking somebody who might win isn't. And if they should happen to win, why not collect a mild commission? Abrams runs his own network of 900 numbers as well as a cable TV show that acts as a glorified infomercial for his phone lines.
Abrams is a force of nature, a role quite familiar to Pacino. It's one he's played in other films like "The Devil's Advocate", "Glengarry Glen Ross", and "The Recruit." Abrams first rule for Lang is "...know what you know, know what you don't know, and know that I need to know everything you know as soon as you know it." Abrams has a bad heart, but still smokes. He also, ironically, has a gambling problem and has been going to Gamblers Anonymous meetings for over 15 years. He passes out business cards on his way out. In case anybody falls off the wagon.
Abrams molds his new protégé into a younger version of himself. Brandon Lang is no more, there is only John Anthony. Trading in his blue jeans for expensive suits, Lang becomes a fast talking huckster and moves up the ladder into sales. He's no longer just picking winners, he's now telling the clientele who to bet on and how much.
Inevitably, with the rise comes the fall. Lang starts believing his own hype and his cockiness puts him on a losing streak. He's not just taking himself down either, his clients are going along with him. In one case, a dry cleaner goes from a Ferrari to the poorhouse. Abrams gets pulled down as well, sinking everything he has on Lang.
The first half gives us an alluring peek into the world of sports gambling. It's not quite an in-depth expose, but its enough to whet our appetites. The second half isn't quite as strong. What finishes the film is clichéd melodrama. Of course, Lang learns to be himself and not pretend to be somebody he isn't. Everybody's fates rest on that last game and all the plot threads get tied up a little too easily.
The strongest element to the film is really the performances. Pacino is Pacino and McConaughey does fine as the fresh faced country boy. The supporting cast are the ones who really hold things together. Rene Russo plays Abrams' wife, Toni Morrow, who is also a recovering from her own addictions as well as trying to keep her husband away from his. Jeremy Piven is Jerry, the former golden boy who finds himself replaced by the new hotshot. Piven seems to have made a career with these little (yet memorable) roles. He's great to watch and I wished he had more to do. The same goes for Armand Assante as a Cuban gangster that loses millions during Lang's slump.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. As expected from such a new release, the transfer looks great. The colors are strong and the picture flawless. There is also a separate fullscreen release available.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with English and French language tracks. Everything sounds fine and the dialogue stands out. No complaints here.
There's an audio commentary track with director DJ Caruso and screenwriter Dan Gilroy (who is also married to Rene Russo). Both bring along production stories and insight into the film, although they sometimes fall into the habit of describing what's on the screen.
The Making of "Two for the Money" is the usual behind the scenes featurette with interviews of the cast and crew.
The best extra happens to be an interview with Brandon Link, whose life happens to be the basis for the film. Link worked as a caddy, ran into Gilroy, and pitched him the idea for the movie. Fascinating stuff.
There is also a set of deleted scenes with optional commentary, plus trailers and TV spots.
"Two for the Money" starts off as a fun ride, but fizzles out before its all said and done. The depiction of Lang's downfall has a been-there done-that type of feel, not to mention it drags on for a bit too long. Still, the acting is strong and they make the film at least suitable for rental.