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Owning Mahowny

james hörner

he isn't interested in sex, booze, or drugs. Dan Mahowny, played by the always solid Philip Seymour Hoffman, is only interested in his next gambling binge. Based on a true story, the film follows the slow decline of a young bank manager who cannot stay away from the tables. It is for good reason that casino manager Victor Foss (John Hurt) calls Mahowny "a goddamn thoroughbred."

Owning Mahowny

Director Richard Kwietniowski succeeds in getting into the head of a compulsive gambler, or so I think - not that I am, or ever have been, a compulsive gambler. But it sure as hell feels like a convincing portrait. My measuring stick here is that the movie made me feel anxious for Mahowny. Is that enough? I've only ever been in a casino once, and what a joyride that was. We watched in horror as a dealer dropped a card and looked like he was holding back tears of stress as the floor boss came and picked it up. Simply being in that place for an hour induced paranoia and serious emotional emptiness. The fact that Mahowny so driven he could ignore the revolting atmosphere in order to become one with the table is statement enough.

Mahowny is shown as a fairly simple man, whose unbelievable motivation is driven in entirely the wrong direction. "I don't have a gambling problem. I have financial problem." This is the rationale that Mahowny gives for borrowing millions of dollars from the bank under sketchy circumstances.

Minnie Driver does her best at throwing us a Canadian accent, in the role of the insanely supportive girlfriend Belinda. It felt a bit over the top, but that might have just been that it was peculiar to hear Driver dropping the occasional "eh." Hoffman does his version of a Canadian, and, while it wasn't that discernable from his typical mumbling, the attempt was there. I normally forget that there is such a thing as a Canadian accent, but this film really pronounced the difference.

The film contains many venerable Canadian actors, such as Maury Chaykin, Ian Tracey, and Matthew Ferguson. These roles are typecast, though, with Chaykin as the bookie, Tracey as the cop, and Ferguson as the annoyingly goody-good character.

It was the little details that I loved about Owning Mahowny, such as Mahowny parking his crappy green car in the same spot every time he flew down to Atlantic City. Hoffman brings out the underlying anger and frustration in a way that grows over the course of the film, bursting out at several points in a shocking display of addiction. He's not a rich man or flamboyant with his winnings. He is only interested in the next round of cards.

The behind the façade action is well done, with the audience getting to see what kind of sleazy manipulation and groveling goes on for a casino to retain the patronage of a big spender like Mahowny. While a few scenes, such as the idiotic "chase scene" at the end are completely overblown, the film reveals a convincing story of a man, his addiction, and the worlds he manages to bridge long enough to get himself into serious trouble. Owning Mahowny is a worthwhile watch, even if only to admire Hoffman in another captivating performance. Any movie where you kind of hope that the criminal gets away with it because he's got a problem you can relate to is successful.

james hörner edits canadian content

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