Owning Mahowny (2003) / Drama-Crime

MPAA Rated: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin, Sonja Smits, Ian Tracey, Chris Collins
Richard Kwietniowski
Screenplay: Maurice Chauvet
Review published January 29, 2003

Based on real-life events as chronicled in Gary Stephen Ross's book, "Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony," Owning Mahowny is a character study of a man with an uncontrollable addiction to gambling.  Philip Seymour Hoffman (Magnolia, The Big Lebowski) stars as Dan Mahowny, a Canadian assistant bank manager who fraudulently authorized over $10 million in order to fund his incessant need to gamble.  The film closely follows Mahowny at work, constantly finding angles to gain the money necessary, while on the home front, his adoring, faithful girlfriend (Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting) feels like she is playing second fiddle to his obsession.  Owning Mahowny also dramatizes the behind-the-scenes manipulations of an Atlantic City casino owner (John Hurt, Alien), pulling the strings to get Mahowny to throw more and more money away in his establishment.

It's a fascinating tale, expertly delivered by Kwietnowski in a quiet and decidedly neutral showcase of a meek, unassuming man who couldn't break out of his habit if his life depended on it (and it did).  It's not a flashy film, definitely feels every bit of the independent flick that it is, and thankfully doesn't try to emulate Hollywood by giving the typical conflicting glamorization of the lifestyle of the addict, then injecting it with a false moral lesson in the end.  Much of the reason for the film's success, and for anyone choosing to view this, is due to Hoffman's interesting performance.  Although not devoid of humor, Hoffman plays Mahowny cold, dubbed "The Iceman" by the casino staff, always focused on one thing, and one thing only, his absolute need to gamble until all of his money is gone.

Owning Mahowny is essential viewing for fans of Hoffman as well as those overcoming their own obsessive-compulsive addictions, even if your vice isn't gambling.  Fans of true-life dramas and independent films will also find this to be a very compelling story, nicely building its story through characters and engaging situations.  Although there is much going on under the surface, the subtlety of Owning Mahowny is perhaps the most impressive aspect at all, forcing viewers to think for themselves rather than force-feeding ideas out of disingenuous obligation.  It's a meek, slow moving, low key experience that leaves utters little outwardly yet manages to say quite a bit, not unlike Dan Mahowny (or is that Brian Molony?) himself. 

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo