Even Money is an eye-opening gritty film noir that begins with scenes featuring cops, dead bookies and family dysfunction.
To this add a top-level criminal, who speaks but who you do not see him until him in a rather stunning conclusion, and you have a pretty good film. But this is not just another film about gambling. It shows the dark consequences in a revealing light.
For the past decade or so Hollywood has made a huge success of disparate interlocking stories. Some of them work. Some don’t. Even Money is such a film. The producer puts the story into a web that eventually goes somewhere with a pretty dramatic conclusion. The cast is excellent, featuring proven stars like Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger, Kelsey Garmmer, Ray Liota, Joy Mohr, Tim Roth, Nick Cannon and Forest Whitaker. The plot is clever and the suspense is tightly structured so as to leave the viewer on the edge of their seat during the last thirty or forty minutes. (Warning: If you don’t get it for the first hour do not give up!)
Even Money (2007, R rated, for violence mostly) received only faint praise, at the very best, from the professional critics. But I liked it enough to write about it. The beginning is a bit difficult to track, as I’ve noted, with its multi-layered stories running hither and yon, but stay with the confusing twists and turns and it will make sense in the end. I think one reason I like such films is that they never offer a predictably happy ending. There is both sadness and joy at the end. There is sin and hope, to put it another way. Crime will not be stopped but lives can still be changed in some cases. This is the way things really are in this fallen world.
In the film two low-level bookies are struggling to make their lives work, a girlfriend finds out what her love actually does for work and thus is shocked and pulls away, while a husband and wife author (who is a popular fiction writer played by Kim Basinger)
face the destruction of their home over her gambling addiction. Add to this a young black basketball star who is asked to throw a game for his needy older brother, who is hooked by the dark underworld of gambling, and you have a thriller. Yes, this film is a morality tale but it is one that most of us should grapple with if we like films that touch on real human subjects. Gambling is serious business in America and Christians were once profoundly concerned about it. (We were only modestly shocked, for instance, when conservative Catholic Christian icon Bill Bennett was revealed to have a serious gambling problem!) The poorer urban and black communities are even more threatened by this evil, especially by state-operated betting via the lotteries. (This is one reason black ministers rail against gambling far more than their white counterparts.)
Mark Rydell’s film did not win awards. In fact, it only got a 23% rating on www.rottentomatoes.com. Critics cite its lines as too predictable and simplistic while its script gets broader and broader before you figure it out. It is a rather formulaic film for sure but that worked fine, at least for me. I would say that if you liked the highly acclaimed move Crash you might also like Even Money.