There are myriad movies about a young man who has an amateur's gift for something. Then he enters the big leagues, the enterprise becomes demystified, he faces inner or outer demons, overcomes them, achieves momentous success, and returns to his roots, a man in full.
That's pretty much the tale of McConaughey, an amiable naif giving comments and advice on a backwoods radio program who's talent is for figuring out who's going to win football games.
He gets a call from Al Pacino, who runs -- well, I don't know what the enterprise can be called. It's a large room full of experts on football who sell betting odds over the phone, rather like stockbrokers, only this is serious money. Pacino is expansive and seductive, almost a reprise of his role in "The Devil's Advocate."
He takes over McConaughey's life, buys him expensive suits, advertises him, and puts him on a TV show. Pacino's wife, Rene Russo, takes a shine to McConaughey too, but nothing untoward happens. McConaughey's a likable guy -- until he gets cocky, superior, and begins to take time off to play golf. A series of failures bring down both him and Pacino, until the climactic Big Win.
The characters are superbly written by Dan Gilroy, and the dialog sounds like the Fourth of July parade in Disneyland. The violent language sparkles with a hilarious profanity. Pacino's metaphors rise to the heights of poetry. I can't reproduce any here.
The score is unobtrusive, the location shooting evocative without showing off, and Conrad Hall's seasoned photography catches it all nicely on celluloid.
All the performances, major and minor, are fine but there are times when it's hard to discern a character's motivation. Pacino and McConaughey have a complex relationship, switching back and forth between deep affection and creeping suspicion. The switches sometimes come too quickly and for reasons that remain murky. I don't know why Pacino embraces McConaughey instead of just kicking his ass out, when McConaughey comes up with a string of losers, and I don't know the significance of making big bets on the flip of a coin (twice).
Last scene: a refurbished and renewed McConaughey in old clothes, a pack slung over his shoulder, a smile on his face, boarding the airplane that will take him back to San Placebo where life is simpler and he can become a middle-school coach with perspective.
The story doesn't link its episodes together very well but the pieces on occasion become works of art. Not majestic works of art, but not Grandma Moses either.