This is a moral film. By the end it is a moralising film. It has taken us on a journey of self-discovery by Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughy), a boy who wanted to please his father with his sports talent, and who went on to be a champion college footballer, despite the fact that his alcoholic father walked out on the family. In one of his greatest scores, Lang suffered a leg injury that stopped him from playing again. In the meantime (which turned out to be six years), he worked as a sales phone operator.
Al Pachino. Photo: image.net
On to the other end of the phone comes Walter Abrams with an offer too good to refuse. Walter is played by Al Pacino, not quite so over the top as in recent years, but a strong performance that mesmerises both Brandon and the audience. Pacino has already had the opportunity to play Satan in the modern business world in The Devil’s Advocate. While this is something of a re-run, it is a creative variation on the theme.
Walter runs a legal (though shady and morally dubious) betting company that gives comprehensive tips for wins but does not handle bets. What it does handle is a percentage on winnings that result from advice given. Obviously it is worth millions (well, not ‘worth’ millions but that is the kind of income the company makes).
Walter is also a gambling addict who has been ‘clean’ for eighteen years. However, his business risk-taking is just another form of addiction. He also confesses that he gets a thrill from the experience of losing – and he finally risks the loss both of his friendship and partnership with Brandon as well as of his wife and daughter. The film is largely about Walter’s moral journey, but it is a highways and byways (and dead ends) kind of journey, much less obvious than Brandon’s succumbing to Walter’s wiles and the get-rich-quick – and now – philosophy of life. Brandon can succeed because he is a whiz at tipping football game winners.
Another quotation, this time from the poet W.B.Yeats, reminds us that in a time of crisis, “the centre cannot hold.” Walter so pressurises Brandon that he has no life left for himself. Brandon also discovers that Walter is more manipulative of people’s lives than he had ever suspected. When Walter starts to pressurise customers into higher risk-betting, Brandon’s conscience starts to get to him. This is reinforced when he starts to unravel in his tips and is bashed by a Puerto Rican billionaire (Armand Assante) who relies on his advice and loses.
What will Brandon do? What are the real choices in a hedonistic, materialistic world? To go with the flow, or to take a moral stance?
Two for the Money capitalises on the contrast between the hyperactive Pacino and the extremely laid-back McConaughey, who tends to rely on his kind of awwh-shucks charm and his image as what PR calls ‘a hunk’ (he is fit and does spend a lot of movie time doing push-ups...). Rene Russo (whose husband, Dan Gilroy, wrote the screenplay) appears as Pacino’s wife, a former drug addict for whom every day is a challenge to keep going and not fall back.
In the background are the phone sales staff, with their intense patter and pressurising of customers, their victims whom they con, and those who allow their addictions to con themselves.