In the pantheon of great gambling movies, you will never, ever, ever hear anyone mention the movie “Two for the Money”. Ever. And if they do, it is more than likely Armond White. But we are here to give this excellent movie it’s due. Premiering in 2005, “Two for the Money” stars Matthew McConaughey, Al Pacino, and Renee Russo. A pretty solid line-up shackled by a “it’s so bad, it’s good” script.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Brandon Lang, a former college quarterback standout who suffered a career ending injury. Now working 900 lines as a means to not only make money but make a comeback by way of the NFL, Brandon becomes a damn good “sports adviser”. However, his plan is derailed after a recruitment offer from Al Pacino’s Walter–the head of a sports adviser firm. You see, Walter knows all about Brandon’s success with his gambling clientele and wants a piece of the action. Renee Russo plays Walter’s wife caught up in the middle of all of this madness. The stakes are raised and Walter transforms Brandon Lang into John Anthony. The best “sports adviser” in town. But more importantly, writing about this movie provides the perfect opportunity to share one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history:

Feed the horse indeed. “Two for the Money” (surprisingly) somehow showcases some melodramatic moments concerning gambling as an addiction. And with any addict, John Anthony becomes their premium pusher. He’s the best there is and wants to continue to feed the horse. Unfortunately, it comes at a great price for his clientele. Most of them continue to gamble even after suffering huge losses, and they have John Anthony to blame. Why? Because gambling is actually considered an addiction/disorder:

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria: Gambling Disorder
(A). Persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as indicated by the individual exhibiting four (or more) of the following in a 12-month period:

  1. Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement.
  2. Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
  3. Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.
  4. Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble).
  5. Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed).
  6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (“chasing” one’s losses).
  7. Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling.
  8. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling.
  9. Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

(B). The gambling behavior is not better explained by a manic episode.

Every aspect of the criteria is shown throughout the movie, and it is brutal. But the pushers continue to push and make more money. Eventually, typical movie stuff happens and the movie falls back to John Anthony anti-hero status. He’s in for one last score, and there’s no turning back. But where does that leave those gamblers? As with most movies, the third act arrives, our hero is redeemed and John Anthony goes on to coach junior league football. Unfortunately, that’s not the happy ending for his clientele.

You could argue that gambling is not an addiction. And you could continue to push the issue that gambling doesn’t involve the use of any sort of biological agent that could alter your state of mind and adversely affect your health. But as Al Pacino’s character Walter states:

“You know, the best part of the best drug in the world isn’t the high. It’s the moment just before you take it. The dice are dancing on the table. Between now and the time they stop, that’s the greatest high in the world.”

That sounds like an addiction to me.

Sources/Credit and Links:
1. “Two for the Money” movie scene: “YouTube”
2. Diagnostic Criteria for Gambling Disorder: American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.