Release Date(s)2006 (April 14, 2020)
Studio(s)Yari Film Group/Freestyle Releasing (MVD Rewind Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D-
Even Money is an ambitious film. It follows nine people whose fates become increasingly intertwined through addiction, gambling, bad decisions, family betrayal, desperation, and the quest for redemption.
Carolyn Carver (Kim Basinger) is a successful novelist suffering from writer’s block who’s become addicted to gambling and loses the family savings at a casino. This causes a serious rift between herself and husband Tom (Ray Liotta) and daughter (Carson Brown).
Washed-up Las Vegas magician Walter (Danny DeVito) does sleight-of-hand tricks at the casino’s restaurant to make a few bucks in tips from the patrons. He meets Carolyn, she confides in him, and he hatches a plan for her to regain her money.
Handyman Clyde (Forest Whitaker) owes so much money to bookies that he enlists his brother, Godfrey (Nick Cannon), a college basketball star headed for the NBA, to throw a game that Clyde will bet on. Afraid for his brother, Godfrey reluctantly becomes complicit in the scheme.
The performances range from excellent to over-the-top. Basinger’s Carolyn is a study in tension as she juggles her gambling addiction with being a wife and mother. Whether playing the slots or hoping to score big at blackjack or watching a crap game, she is transfixed. She often comes home quite late and, when her husband asks about where she’s been, lies defensively, straining her relationship with him. She conveys a sense of tightly wound desperation.
Whitaker plays Clyde as a decent guy who’s his brother’s foremost cheerleader. But after being severely beaten by his bookie’s enforcers and seeing no other way out of his huge debt, he uses Godfrey as an escape route. His enthusiasm is laid on pretty thick, and his portrayal could have benefited from subtlety. Not every scene requires an overblown delivery. By contrast, Cannon reacts mostly through facial expression and body language, which is far more effective in demonstrating the bond between brothers.
DeVito turns in one of the film’s best performances. His comic talent makes him irresistible as his Walter entertains patrons with his small-time magic for tips. Walter is ever the optimist. Though his best days are far behind him, he looks forward to a brighter, more lucrative future. He’s a soothing balm to Carolyn, who is at rock bottom when she meets him. They just might help each other climb out of an abyss of despair.
Director Mark Rydell has an intriguing premise to work with but takes far too long introducing the characters. Because we don’t understand their relationships initially, the film appears to be a series of short episodes about unrelated characters. Eventually, the connections become clear and the film starts to percolate, but by then, not much space is left for the plot to develop. The early scenes could stand some editing to tighten the pace.
Subplots and subsidiary characters are introduced that complicate the narrative rather than enhance it. Low-level bookies Augie (Jay Mohr) and Murph (Grant Sullivan) are trying to make it big. Murph’s girlfriend (Carla Gugino) wants to break off their relationship once she learns how he takes advantage of people. Detective Brunner (Kelsey Grammer) pops up occasionally as a cop investigating a bookie-related murder. All are seeking the mysterious Ivan (Rydell), a mob boss whom no one has actually seen. In a film already brimming with main characters, these subplots could easily have been removed or at least trimmed.
Featuring 1080p High Definition resolution, Even Money is presented on Blu-ray from the MVD Rewind Collection in the widescreen format of 1.85:1. The picture quality is sharp and shows details effectively. The casino sequences feature mostly high key lighting as the lights on the slot machines blink in varied colors. Lighting is more muted in bar scenes. The basketball scenes are brightly illuminated. Clyde’s confrontations with his bookies are in deep shadow. Walter’s trailer doubles as home and museum with posters and memorabilia of his more successful days all around. From inside a car, raindrops on the windshield are nicely backlit to stand out. Worry lines on Carolyn’s face are prominent, and in close-ups, pores, whiskers, and sweat droplets on the male characters are clearly delineated.
The English 5.1 Dolby Surround soundtrack features good movement from left to right and right to left, with most dialogue emanating from the center. Dialogue is clear and easily understood for the most part, though some actors speak in low voices, making it necessary to increase the volume. Grammer’s Detective Brunner, in particular, speaks in a muffled manner and is difficult to understand. The casino scenes demonstrate a good mix of dialogue, crowd chatter, and slot machines. The ambient noise of the casino establishes the excitement and energy in the room. Rain falling on a car is balanced well with dialogue. Violent scenes are enhanced by sounds of punches, grunts, and incidental objects breaking. Dave Grusin’s music, featuring lush strings and interesting guitar solos, is lovely, but seems a mismatch for the visuals. A more driving score in the casino segments would likely have added more energy. Optional subtitles include English SDH and Spanish.
The only bonus feature is the original theatrical trailer in HD.
– Dennis Seuling