Sometimes films sport an ensemble cast with intertwining storylines that have large aspirations. The films wind up being acclaimed on several different levels and are memorable in the long term. In previous outings, this technique is usually mastered by the late Robert Altman, but when it’s not remotely successful, it becomes self-indulgent and overly pretentious.
Take the case of Even Money. Written by Robert Tannen in his screenwriting debut and directed by Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond), the film covers the lives of several different people. Carol (Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential) is married to Tom (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas). She’s a writer suffering through a block while Tom works as a teacher. Clyde (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland) works hard as a plumber while his younger brother Godfrey is a star basketball player (Nick Cannon in a “one of these things is not like the other” role). Walter (Danny DeVito, Hoffa) is an aspiring magician who tries to get closer to an old mysterious businessman named Ivan, but only gets as far as a man named Victor (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction). There’s even a doctor (Carla Gugino, Sin City) who is dating the muscle for a bookie. I give the last part of this away a little bit, as all the characters and their storylines involve gambling in one form or another.
As you can tell, it’s a concept film without really revealing a lot of the concept, so the film focuses on the effects that gambling has on the relationships between some of the characters. In terms of how the film looks in its first impression, you’d think that the film is a bit of a heist flick. And shoot, with two Oscar winners in its cast (Basinger and Whitaker), the film would be more emotionally affecting, because the scenes where the actors get a chance to show off hasn’t been made any more opportune. But the scenes themselves seem to fall flat, in large part because of the film’s largest attribute tends to confuse. With so many storylines, it’s a matter of time before one gets neglected over one that appears to be the showcase one. The showcase storyline is the one with Carol and Tom, as they get some valuable time in the third act of the film. But they have to go away to other arcs where you know how the relationship will end, and when you do try to focus on one storyline, it devolves into irrational behavior from one of the characters in one form or another.
And this is not even counting a rather irrational plot involving a detective (played by Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer), who is trying to investigate who is behind the murder of a guy who washed up at the beach pier. I’m going to presume that the reason why this film failed to catch on is because it seems to have been made by a lot of people who were dying to work in an independent ensemble cast, and while Roth’s appearance does give it a little bit of street cred, things predictably unravel in the third act.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film looks fine. To be honest, there’s nothing too much here that separates this film technically from others, but the image retains its sharpness throughout the feature.
You get a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that, for a dialogue driven film, is still pretty muted. Everything sounds pretty clear throughout, but the dialogue should have been mixed in a little stronger to get the full enjoyment.
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-yay. If you’re looking for any extras on this disc than this isn’t your day.
It’s more than a little annoying to see films with the intentions of Even Money. You’ve got a quality cast here, but the thing that’s clearly holding it down is a story that’s confusing and simply work. It assumes that you know what’s going on in the character’s minds even as they’re making this leap of faith into irrational behavior. Go watch Magnolia or Nashville and remember the good old days of ensemble drama.