Film

Two for the Money (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

The boys also share a certain erotic/athletic appreciation of Brandon's body.


Two for the Money

Director: D.J. Caruso
Cast: Al Pacino, Matthew McConaughey, Rene Russo, Armand Assante, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Universal
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-10-07

Maybe Al Pacino is losing his satanic touch. As much as his latest corruption-of-the-innocent-boy movie sets up for the same pattern as his previous corruption-of-the-innocent-boy movies, it actually goes somewhere else. That is, it leaves the devil redeemed.

This probably sounds more complicated than it is. Two for the Money is nothing if not reductive. It opens on the ostensible victim, a sports-loving kid named Brandon (Matthew McConaughey), devoted to hitting baseballs and throwing footballs because he believes in his little boy's heart that it's a matter of "purity." If he can make everything right on the field, his dad will smile rather than drink beer, and maybe he'll even stick around, in some alternate universe. In his real life, Brandon's dad leaves when he's nine, and then the superstar high school and college QB wears a terrible wig and blows out his knee during a big game, appears forlorn under an eye-of-god camera, and lands himself a job in a 900-numbers cubicle, answering calls to the Jessica Simpson Hotline.

All this woe-is-me voiceover sets up Brandon's need for a new daddy, which Pacino's Walter is all too inclined to exploit. When Brandon shows his gift for predicting sports events for the 900-number joint (he's picking winners at the rate of 75%), Walter hires him for his own New York-based sports wagering company. Yes, Walter allows, sports betting is technically illegal, but we all know "everything's about money" and this particular business is, in fact, booming, circulating billions of dollars annually.

Brandon is easily sold, or bought, depending on your perspective. He accepts Walter's terms: he rechristened "John Anthony," lives, works out, and works in Walter's building, adopts a slicked-back haircut and designer suits, and, painfully naïve rube that he is, believes that the pretty girl (Jaime King) Walter purchases for him one evening actually "likes" him. At the office, Brandon is immediately successful and so, a threat to those coworkers also in search of daddying. Longtime NFL predictor rival Jerry (Jeremy Piven) snarls and snipes, while others (older and more bulbous-nosed) tend to take the next big thing in stride, understanding that he'll burn out soon and enjoying the traffic he brings to the office in the meantime.

But Walter's got all kinds of ulterior motives, none especially disguised, except, it seems, to Brandon. For one thing, he's a former gambler-addict-mess himself, now seeming to focus his energies on his six-year-old daughter and recovering junkie/beauty salon owner wife Toni (Rene Russo). Though she believes that "Walter's held together by meetings," the film reveals otherwise, in part by making its smartest point -- not gambling on gambling is gambling. That is, while Walter and Brandon and their fellow handicappers all talk big about not actually gambling, only picking winners for clients and drawing money from their winnings, in fact, it's all gambling. That Brandon is supposed to be a younger, more gifted, and better muscled Walter only sets him up to be predictable, as the two compete for attention, dominance, and in a weird way, Toni, who plays sometimes nurturing, occasionally chiding, and infinitely patient mother to both.

The boys also share a certain erotic/athletic appreciation of Brandon's body, which eventually becomes an object of betting in its own right (this gamble is the film's climactic reveal, but nearly the surprise it pretends to be). While Brandon's self-love is obvious enough by his incessant mirror gazing and working out, Walter reveals his own lusty potential when he espies Brandon's naked torso through a window, and spends a few minutes insisting that Toni notice his beauty. She resists, honestly believing she's in love with her craggy-crotchety husband, but also recognizing in him a mirror of her own addictions and losses.

While Toni's story suggests some intriguing complications -- what is going on with her devotion to this man who so distrusts and fears her? -- Brandon's saga is as boring as can be -- he gets cocky, he overreaches, he falls (during one especially yucky punishment scene, a client [Armand Assante] finds him in Central Park and has a thug hold him down so the client can piss all over him). Eventually, Brandon finds his way back to himself, that is, Brandon rather than "John Anthony" (again, his faith in a real self that might be lost and found is rather quaint)/ Walter's story is much more compelling, because he does, at some level, get what gambling is about.

At one point during his lessons for Brandon, he drags the student and Toni into a Gamblers' Anonymous meeting and begins, by way of a speech about his long-term sobriety and his earnest understanding of the group members' plaints, then explains that they're addicted to losing, not winning or gambling per se. And so he invites them to use his service, in order to be winners, and break their addiction to losing. "Gambling's not the problem. We're the problem, "he rasps, "We're lemons. We're addicted to losing."

It's something of an ingenious speech, ebbing and flowing, and Pacino chews it up as you might expect. It's a lie, too, which is the underlying point of Two for the Money. Losing or winning is not what's at issue in gambling, at least for high stakes adrenaline junkies. Rather, it's the potential that can be experienced only in the pre-conclusion moments. And here it becomes clear that Toni is the major stake for the two boys.

At the same time, Russo is the film's most compelling, least regular aspect (the fact that she executive produced suggests as well that options for over-40 women actors are even fewer than you've heard). Fantastically made up and dressed, she's playing a meticulous, self-aware fashion expert among man-boys. Toni, it appears, understands the stakes.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.