If Al Pacino wasn’t in it, I’d say Two For The Money was just another movie promoting Matthew McConaughey as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” considering the number of times that McConaughey is without his shirt. But because Pacino is in it, Two For The Money must be taken more seriously despite the usually solid McConaughey. No offense to McConaughey, but Pacino exudes seriousness.
McConaughey plays Brandon Lang, a middling Las Vegas oddsmaker, who through his love of football has accumulated a huge streak of picking winning teams. His incredible success sparks the interest of a big time oddsmaker named Walter Abrams (played by Pacino), who invites Lang to work for him in New York. Abrams is a seller and he sells Lang on the opportunity to make lots of money in a higher stakes sports betting market.
Abrams puts everything on the line for Lang, even creating a new persona for him named John Anthony. For Lang, it’s an opportunity to make money and support his mother and brother. For Abrams, it’s an opportunity to build an empire, which Lang will be the center of (or close to it).
With all of the money at stake in this gambling underworld, you would assume there would be a huge amount of danger that goes along with it. Lives can be ruined with the wrong bets, and you would think that Abrams would be constantly looking over his shoulder during the losing streaks. But no, Abrams spreads dinner invites like a man with no worries. That’s the biggest problem with the movie, as the danger doesn’t come across as deadly. The most violent scene in the movie comes across more as comical than suspenseful with not even a drop of fear.
By the same token, money isn’t shown center stage either. Gambling involves money, but the desire and greed aren’t showcased to any heightened unrealism. Yes, Abrams buys Lang a new suit, a new car and a new life, but neither show any real interest in the money they earn. During one tremendous week, Abrams scores a cool $2 million. So happy in the winnings Abrams tosses money without a care; but when Lang playfully suggests that he wants a bigger cut, Abrams does a 180-degree turn. Why does Lang ask for more money when, if he needed it so badly, he could just bet using his own predictions? Why does Abrams get so touchy when asked for more money when his wife (Renee Russo) owns a high-end beauty salon and he seemingly has money to throw around?
Abrams is easily the most sympathetic character and the most flawed. In one scene, Abrams is hugging and kissing his daughter, and the next he’s calculating and manipulating and trying to shape Lang into his own image. Why a shift? We know he is flawed, but can he really be that flawed as to shift moods in opposite directions at will?
The movie is almost too energetic, shifting from mood to mood, scene to scene, plot point to plot point without so much as a root to any structure. Toward the end, Two For The Money plays more as a sports film with the resolution depending on the final game and with the stakes being less dire and strangely more complicated than is built up. Without Pacino, the film’s intensity works. With Pacino, the film struggles to keep up.
There is a feature-length commentary with the film’s director, D.J. Caruso, and the film’s writer, Dan Gilroy. Also included is a fairly standard promotional 11-minute featurette “The Making Of Two For The Money.” There are interviews with Pacino, McConaughey, Russo, Jeremy Piven, Caruso and Gilroy, all talking about the film, the characters and eventually near the end about how great an actor Pacino is.
There is an interview between the writer and the real Brandon Link. They talk about meeting randomly on a golf course eight years ago, and Link pitching his story to Gilroy. Link even samples his selling technique as an oddsmaker, which is quite fascinating. There are a few deleted scenes that are quite unworthy with the final cut. Also is a theatrical trailer and a few television spots for the film.