Jun 2, 2015

Review: Owning Mahowny (2003)

Main character Dan Mahowny of Owning Mahowny is based on real-life Canadian gambler Brian Molony who worked at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Toronto. In the 1980's he became infamous for having embezzled millions of dollars to fund his highroller trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. As all embezzlers do, he was caught in the end after having stolen $10 million and shocking everyone in the process due to his generally unassuming nature. No one expected such a "boring" man to have done what he had did.

Unfortunately, Canadian/UK produced Owning Mahowny was one of those movies that did well with the critics (especially Roger Ebert) but not so well at the box office. With a $10 million budget which is the same amount that Brian Molony embezzled no less, it made a paltry $1.2 million worldwide. I suppose that's why there's no Owning Mahowny 2. Heh...


At a Glance

Genre: crime, thriller, drama
Directed by: Richard Kwietniowski
Produced by: Alessandro Camon, Andras Hamori, Seaton McLean, etc.
Written by: Maurice Chauvet
Music by: Richard Grassby-Lewis, The Insects
Running time: 104 minutes
Production company: Alliance Atlantis Communications, Astral Media, Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, etc.
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics, Alliance Atlantis Communications, Arkles Entertainment, etc.
Country: Canada, United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: $10,000,000
Box office: $1,176,302 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin, Ian Tracey, Sonja Smits, K.C. Collins, Jason Blicker, Vince Corazza, Roger Dunn, Eric Fink, Mike 'Nug' Nahrgang, Tanya Henley, Brona Brown



Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has just been promoted to assistant branch manager due to his good judgement and strong work ethic. What his superiors don't know however is that Dan is hiding a serious gambling addiction that has him betting on sporting events and going on Atlantic City weekend trips to try and recoup his losses. Victor Foss (John Hurt) takes notice of Dan and does everything in his power to make sure he keeps coming back. 



Owning Mahowny isn't very flashy even if it could be. After all, there's not much out there that's glitzier than Vegas or Atlantic City. Instead, Maurice Chauvet who wrote the script based on Gary Stephen Ross' novel Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony turns in a very character based story that focuses heavily on the gambling addiction that ruins Dan's life. Many scenes dwell on Dan Mahowny's face as he watches his money disappear right in front of him or as he breathes heavily in contemplation. Owning Mahowny is nothing else but a slow-moving pressure cooker, but it works.

The score that was composed by Richard Grassby-Lewis and UK instrumental jazz band The Insects enhances that atmosphere perfectly. The music almost never picks up the pace which actually seems to go opposite to the tension that's clearly going on as Mahowny loses his millions at the gambling tables. The cinematography and editing do the same thing pretty much as the style often feels slow-paced to the point of practically plodding. There are a fair amount of Dutch angles used to convey tension though even if it isn't all in your face as Dutch angles usually are.

It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone, but Philip Seymour Hoffman raises Owning Mahowny to a level it could not have reached if it weren't for his powerhouse performance in the film. Hoffman has a way of transfixing you and making it impossible to look elsewhere while he's on-screen which is something he does in spades in OM. From his forced laughter while dealing with his superiors to his intense focus while playing poker, Hoffman isn't an actor here. He's Dan Mahowny.

Besides Hoffman, Minnie Driver surprised me by playing a much softer role than what I'm used to seeing her play. I guess I'm not a Driver connoisseur, but I enjoyed her performance here as Dan's girlfriend Belinda. It'd be easy to label her as a bit of an idiot for putting up with Dan's gambling, but love makes us do crazy things and Belinda clearly wants to help him. Dan didn't really get any sympathy out of me because of how un-human he seems at times, but Belinda did which is something you need in a movie like this. There has to be sympathy for someone somewhere.

I quite like the casino angle of things in Owning Mahowny too as it really does show how desperately intelligent these places are. Victor Foss who is admirably played by John Hurt has a job and that's making as much money as he can every night. Casino visitors can be divided into two groups: big fish and small fish. Foss is particularly interested in the big fish and is willing to provide all the comforts that a big fish might need. Drinks, food, nice rooms, limos, women, you name it. He reels Dan Mahowny in and conveniently avoids learning too much about him lest he find out any unpleasant truths and be liable. Smart man.

Owning Mahowny isn't going to knock your socks off with slick excess or greased-back style that usually comes with movies featuring characters taking advantage of their positions in the financial world (see of Wall Street, Wolf). It's a character movie that intently focuses on one man and his struggles to control a serious gambling addiction but failing completely. From that point of view, OM just works. Add in Philip Seymour Hoffman though and Owning Mahowny has an ace up its sleeve.



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