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Owning Mahowny
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Owning Mahowny More at IMDbPro »

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54 out of 58 people found the following review useful:

An Actor's Film

9/10
Author: DanB-4 from Canada
1 February 2004

For anyone in Dan Mahowny's life who cared to look, all the signs were there. Bad hair, disheveled clothes, no overcoat in Toronto in winter, empty apartment and a '74 Dodge Dart. He should have had more but did not. He had everything the addict needs - a source of income, a source of his addiction and several "enablers" in his life.

Owning Mahowny tells the famous and true story of a mid-level bank manager at the CIBC, who in the early 80s, stole $10,000,000 from several high profile clients, and a few non-existent ones. All the funds were lost in Atlantic City and Vegas. But this is not a con movie, it is far more clever than that. It is a detailed and devastating study of a gambling addiction.

We all know that Mahowny will get caught, but how and when. He has no record, is not a criminal and he is well respected at his job. What this film does almost better than anything is reveals how the day to day events allows the protagonist to prolong his inevitable collapse.

As the film progresses, Mahowny becomes more and more paranoid. Every open file, every meeting and every phone call represents his potential downfall. Note how he maneuvers through key meetings and audits. But he is not afraid of getting caught, he is afraid of losing his lifeline to the thrill of the bet.

You just simply cannot say enough about both the leads in this film. Philip Seymour Hoffman is spot on perfect as Mahowny, focused on the next hand, rarely raising his eyes to the camera. John Hurt is also wonderful as the malevolent casino boss who is all too happy to take Mahowny's money and not care where it came from.

Had this film received better backing, Hoffman may well have received his first Oscar nomination. As it stands, you will have to seek this out on DVD. It is an edgy and well directed study in to the mind of an addict. Not perfect, but I loved this from start to finish. ***1/2 out of ****.

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39 out of 43 people found the following review useful:

sad and haunting

Author: Roland E. Zwick (magneteach@aol.com) from United States
11 April 2004



`Some folks believe that everyone has a public life, a private life and a secret life.'

These are the opening words of `Owning Mahowny,' a fascinating real-life tale of a compulsive gambler whose life falls to pieces when he begins embezzling funds from the bank where he works in order to feed his obsession. Dan Mahowny's `secret life' became public in the early 1980's when he was finally arrested and convicted on charges of bank theft. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has made a career out of playing sad sack, tormented souls, gives one of his richest performances to date as Mahowny, a mild-mannered man caught in the grip of that compulsive sickness known as gambling addiction. Minnie Driver plays his devoted girlfriend who loves Dan dearly but who cannot bear to stand by and watch helplessly as he slowly but inexorably destroys his life.

If the film were only about Mahowny's gambling problem, it would be no different from countless TV movies made on the same subject. What sets this film apart is the way in which writer Maurice Chauvet (working off the original novel by Gary Stephen Ross) and director Richard Kwietniowski make the background of the story as compelling as the foreground. The astute, observant script focuses as much on the ins and outs of the casino and gambling worlds as it does on the personal travails of its main character. Particularly intriguing is the way in which high rollers are followed and coddled by the casino owners using both high tech equipment like cameras and monitors as well as plain old-fashioned flattery, obsequiousness and deceit. John Hurt, in a brilliant performance, plays a smarmy casino operator in Atlantic City who will stop at nothing to make Mahowny feel at home in his establishment – all for the purpose of having his new found `friend' gamble away a fortune at his tables, of course. The film is, in fact, filled with interesting side characters, including a sympathetic bellhop, who befriends Dan and who tries to convince him to leave the casino he happens to work for; several of the petty loan sharks with whom Dan finds himself inextricably connected; and a whole host of law enforcement officials whose job it is to bring Dan in on grand theft felony charges.

The filmmakers have taken a laid back, subtle approach to their material. They allow the story to develop slowly, offering us the chance to get to know Mahowny and his world at an unhurried, leisurely pace. Since Mahowny is, himself, such a secretive, quiet character, it is appropriate that the film that bears his name should also reflect that quality of muted sadness in its pacing and tone. Towards the end, however, once the authorities begin moving in for the kill and we sense the inevitable grip of Fate tightening around this strangely likable character, the film becomes both highly suspenseful and immensely moving at one and the same time. What's fascinating is that we are always one step ahead of Mahowny in our understanding of what is about to befall him. As in all great tragedies, it is the Cassandra-like burden placed on the audience – that of being able to see the future with no hope of doing anything to prevent it – that gives the film its air of pervasive sadness.

`Owning Mahowny' is a beautifully written, directed and acted film that opens up for us a strange and fascinating world.

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30 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

A tour de force. One of the best of 2003

9/10
Author: Greg (gregmoroberts@yahoo.com) from Oakville, Ontario
9 February 2004

Every once and while, film buffs get a treat. Amongst all the crash and burn violence and volume of the summer blockbusters, every once and while, a movie will sneak under the radar and capture our attention.

Owning Mahowny didn't get much of a theatrical release. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, the film never played on more than 24 screens and earned only a fraction of the minute $10 million budget. But here is your chance to find it in the lonely ‘O' section of your local DVD retailer.

The movie is based on the true story of Dan Mahowny (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a mid-level bank official that has a gambling problem. Dan will bet on almost anything and his addiction would result in a financial hole not easily climbed. It is here that Dan begins to use his title at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to fraudulently steal money for week-end trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Over his eighteen month spree, Dan was able to gamble over $10 million of the banks dollars.

The film follows Dan through the initial stages of his addiction and careful details his interaction with Vegas hotel staff, co-workers and his girlfriend as he feeds his desires while keeping his compulsion secret. As he falls deeper into the casino's pockets, the hotel owners fall deeper in love with his freelance style, and Dan is soon treated with celebrity like status upon every visit. However, eventually, the police begin to piece the missing money together and the result is the uncovering of the biggest one-man bank fraud to ever hit the Canadian borders.

Owning Mahowny is a terrific film largely in part to the incredible acting performance by Hoffman. As Dan Mahowny, Hoffman is able to portray an insatiable gambler who is ignorant to his surroundings when at the card table. His stare at the table and lack of emotional response, either for the good or the bad, is incredibly parlayed by Hoffman's sweat and stature. A scene where Mahowny takes his girlfriend to Vegas but quickly ignores and forgets her once he is in front of a blackjack table is unforgettable.

Owning Mahowny is not without its good supporting cast either, including John Hurt (Alien) as the Casino owner that takes a shine to Mahowny and Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) as his girlfriend. Both show us the contrast between someone who doesn't want to know how he does it and loves him for it and the other who can't seem to get to know the man she loves.

Like 1999's Rogue Trader, it is scary to see the loopholes exploited by bank or financial institution employees in these true stories brought to the big screen. It both movies, you see how one man with the access to large amounts of money can easily get over their own head and dig themselves deeper and deeper into a whole, yet they are always thinking they are one bet or one trade away from righting the wrong.

Owning Mahowny was one of the best films of 2003, and should not be missed. Storytelling doesn't get any better than this.

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23 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

The Gambler

8/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
25 April 2005

"Owning Mahowny" shown recently on cable came as a total surprise. This is a film to watch because of the amazing performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Under the direction of Richard Kwietniowski, and based on a real incident that occurred in Toronto in the 80s, this film speaks clearly about an addiction and what it does to a man who is in complete denial about his problem.

Dan Mahowny is not exactly what one would expect from a bank executive. He appears unkempt and to a certain degree dirty, so that alone, would have made any bank manager pass him over, in favor of a pretty boy who would have looked the part. Obviously, the real Dan was a man that knew his banking business and it was on that basis that he was appointed to the executive post.

It appears clearly that Dan is in trouble. The reptilian Frank Perlin comes to him at the beginning of the film to demand what Dan owes him. The only problem is that Dan doesn't have the money. Dan's solution is to "borrow" funds from the bank to cover his debts. This is the beginning of Dan's descent into hell. His gambling addiction will make him steal more and more. As a gambler, Dan plays without any plan. It appears, like with other gamblers, Mahowny is superstitious, as we see when his friend goes to his table to put a curse, in this sick man's mind, and he will lose everything. The next occasion is when he breaks the bank in Atlantic City. Instead of listening to his friend, who tells him to walk away, he gambles it all and ends up with nothing.

Dan, like other gamblers, is only concerned with gambling in any shape, or form. Mahowny couldn't care less for the mousy Belinda, the woman who loves him and who confronts him about his gambling addiction. Belinda even offers to give him all her savings to repay his debts, which at the time, have reached astronomic proportions. Belinda's love makes her stand by her man, no matter how bad things are. There's a ray of hope at the end as one sees Dan and Belinda standing next to the fall in Niagara.

This is a film that offers a magnificent nuanced performance from Mr. Hoffman. This actor has the ability to get into the skin of all his characters. Aside from being an accomplished actor, he always projects the angst and the turmoil that is going inside Dan. There is not a false moment in Mr. Hoffman's portrayal of Dan. Having seen him on stage, one can only wonder what can't this man do.

Minnie Driver, as Belinda is perfect as the girl who thinks Dan is the only man for her. Instead of abandoning him once she realizes his problem, she stays until the end. One hopes things did work out for them, because this is a woman who clearly deserve some happiness.

The other great performance is by John Hurt. He plays the Atlantic City casino manager that knows what makes Dan tick. Victor Fox realizes what goes on in the gambler's psyche. Ultimately, he knows Dan will lose everything because he plays without any plan at all. Maury Chaykin has some good moments playing Frank Perlin.

The scenes of the casino, which probably were filmed in either a studio, or one of the smaller places, have a seedy look. We don't get wowed by all the opulence one encounters in the big places of Las Vegas, or Atlantic City.

Director Kwietniowski, concentrates in keeping his camera on Dan's face as we watch the gambler in action. Ultimately the film belongs to Phillip Seymour Hoffman for his honest and accomplished take on a man who gambled his future away.

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16 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

All Hoffman

8/10
Author: George Parker from Orange County, CA USA
14 October 2003

"Owning Mahoney" tells of a bank account manager and pathological gambler who lives from one wager to the next on a collision course with oblivion. A powerful and compelling tour de force by Hoffman - who once again proves he ranks among the actor's actors with the likes of Brando, Pacino, and Nicholson - this engrossing film claims to be a true story of a man, money, and an obsession of remarkable proportions. A worthwhile watch for Hoffman fans and anyone into character studies, particularly of obsessive-compulsive types. All others stay away. (A-)

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13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Superb portrayal of a compulsive gambler

Author: Harry T. Yung (harry_tk_yung@yahoo.com) from Hong Kong
1 August 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers

This movie is based on a true story that happened in Toronto in the early eighties, about a branch bank manager called Dan Mahowny who embezzled ten million dollars to pay for his gambling debts. For those of us who happened to be living in Toronto at that time, this movie offers something extra. What's more, watching this movie in a relatively small community cinema in Toronto feels almost like going to a party. You hear roars of laughter breaking out at unlikely place such as: `This guy makes twenty-two thousand dollars Canadian', or `We meant to treat you at Swiss Chalet'.

Philip Seymour Hoffman shines again, after The Talented Mr. Ripley and Red Dragon, in both of which played relatively minor supporting roles but left a great impression. Here, his delivers a mesmerizing portrayal of a compulsive gambler who would otherwise be a perfectly normal, caring man. His performance in the last gamble scene when he starts by beating Atlantic City but ends up losing his shirt (so what else is new?) is worth the price of the admission.

Minnie Driver (Goodwill Hunting, An Ideal Husband) plays a normal woman who makes a `normal assumption' that when her boyfriend takes her to Vegas to stay in a plush suite, it must be for the purpose of marrying her there. On her performance, maybe I can draw a culinary analogy: the most challenging thing sometimes is not making fancy dishes with unpronounceable names, but fixing up simple daily dishes like an omelet or a pancake and make it stand out. This is Driver playing Belinda, a very ordinary woman who happens to love her man, even when turns out that he is sentenced to six years in prison. Despite the ridiculous wig (which everybody mentioned), she manages to make something out of this role that offers little opportunities. This is why Driver is one of my most favorite actresses.

John Hurt's performance as the charismatic casino boss Victor Voss can only be described as classic. Before seeing this movie, I could not imagine him in such as role but after seeing it, I could not think of anyone else (including the great De Niro) who can do it better.

The film also pokes fun at manipulative bankers, famish casino operators, gullible bank auditors and over-cautious policemen. These, with other humorous touches, generate chuckles of mirth throughout.

One last thing: there's a comment in the dialogue to the effect that not long ago (counting back from the time of the story), you would need the bank's (your employer) permission to get married. That is no joke, but absolutely true. I once worked there.

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17 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

A tour de force. One of the best of 2003

9/10
Author: Greg (gregmoroberts@yahoo.com) from Oakville, Ontario
9 February 2004

Every once and while, film buffs get a treat. Amongst all the crash and burn violence and volume of the summer blockbusters, every once and while, a movie will sneak under the radar and capture our attention.

Owning Mahowny didn't get much of a theatrical release. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, the film never played on more than 24 screens and earned only a fraction of the minute $10 million budget. But here is your chance to find it in the lonely ‘O' section of your local DVD retailer.

The movie is based on the true story of Dan Mahowny (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a mid-level bank official that has a gambling problem. Dan will bet on almost anything and his addiction would result in a financial hole not easily climbed. It is here that Dan begins to use his title at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to fraudulently steal money for week-end trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Over his eighteen month spree, Dan was able to gamble over $10 million of the banks dollars.

The film follows Dan through the initial stages of his addiction and careful details his interaction with Vegas hotel staff, co-workers and his girlfriend as he feeds his desires while keeping his compulsion secret. As he falls deeper into the casino's pockets, the hotel owners fall deeper in love with his freelance style, and Dan is soon treated with celebrity like status upon every visit. However, eventually, the police begin to piece the missing money together and the result is the uncovering of the biggest one-man bank fraud to ever hit the Canadian borders.

Owning Mahowny is a terrific film largely in part to the incredible acting performance by Hoffman. As Dan Mahowny, Hoffman is able to portray an insatiable gambler who is ignorant to his surroundings when at the card table. His stare at the table and lack of emotional response, either for the good or the bad, is incredibly parlayed by Hoffman's sweat and stature. A scene where Mahowny takes his girlfriend to Vegas but quickly ignores and forgets her once he is in front of a blackjack table is unforgettable.

Owning Mahowny is not without its good supporting cast either, including John Hurt (Alien) as the Casino owner that takes a shine to Mahowny and Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) as his girlfriend. Both show us the contrast between someone who doesn't want to know how he does it and loves him for it and the other who can't seem to get to know the man she loves.

Like 1999's Rogue Trader, it is scary to see the loopholes exploited by bank or financial institution employees in these true stories brought to the big screen. It both movies, you see how one man with the access to large amounts of money can easily get over their own head and dig themselves deeper and deeper into a whole, yet they are always thinking they are one bet or one trade away from righting the wrong.

Owning Mahowny was one of the best films of 2003, and should not be missed. Storytelling doesn't get any better than this.

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Hoffmans performance is top notch!

7/10
Author: rosscinema (rosscinema@comcast.net) from Oceanside, Ca.
1 June 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the true story of the biggest Canadian bank fraud case in Toronto's history. The story is about a compulsive gambler of the worst kind named Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Mahowny has just become promoted to being a bank manager and he is very good at his job. Unfortunately, he has access to a million dollar account and dummies up paperwork to get his hands on money to keep gambling. His fiance Belinda (Minnie Driver) knows he goes to the track and bets a little but is unaware of the extent of his problem. He goes to a casino in Atlantic City to bet and the owner Victor Foss (John Hurt) quickly notices him and keeps his eye on him. Lots of questions are being asked as to who this Mahowny really is and they think he's a real high roller. They tempt him with free shows but he says no, he just wants to gamble. They try and give him free drinks and he still says no. Then Foss sends up a prostitute to his free suite and he sends her back. Foss is fascinated by Mahowny and calls him "The Ice Man". But the police have been tapping the line of Mahowny's bookie and they also are trying to figure out where he gets the money. What can you say about Hoffmans performance? In my book its an early candidate for an Oscar nomination and I'll be checking the nominations out next year. Hoffman plays Mahowny exactly the way an obsessive person would. Hoffman rarely even looks at whoever he is communicating with. He seems to be annoyed that he has to stop gambling and talk to people. His whole existence is to gamble. Hoffman throws himself into the role and their is no compassion aimed at his character. Your not suppose to root for him but Hoffman is so compelling to watch that your fascinated by the attention that he has accumulated at the casinos. Hoffman is at the top of his form and even when you see Mahowny at work its just an excuse to try and get more money for his real existence. To gamble. Driver is a terrific actress but aside from some scenes when she confronts her fiance about his problem she seems to be in a role that screamed to be rewritten. Two scenes stick out with Driver, the first is a very symbolic shot of her in Las Vegas looking for Mahowny. She is coming down the escalator to find her fiance. But on the other side of her the escalator has a newly wedded couple on their way up! I thought this symbolized her fate if she continues to have a relationship with him. The other scene is when she finds Mahowny at the poker table and a security guard is about to drag her away for annoying the players. Mahowny barely notices her and its here that Belinda realizes the extent of his problem. Hurt is also good as the fascinated Victor Foss. His character has seen a lot of gamblers with problems before but Mahowny seems to be the king of all of them and its something that he's never seen before, at least not on such an extreme level. Well made film is directed by Richard Kwietniowski who is smart enough to get terrific actors to enhance his low budget films. While the film is structured adequately, its the performance by Hoffman that really raises this film up a few levels. When the nominations come out next year, I hope they remember this finely detailed performance.

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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Engaging 'true crime' tale

6/10
Author: J. Wellington Peevis from Malltown
27 April 2005

Interesting examination of a young Canadian bank executive who embezzles money to feed an insatiable gambling addiction.

Hoffman gives a yeoman's if not overly subdued performance as Dan Mahowny, and the film for the most part is a better than average watch. Strangely, the film plops you right into chapter 5 or thereabouts, and your left wondering who is this guy for the entire film. The motivation for Mahowny's odd behavior is never really broached. The film starts with Mahowny sports betting and playing for the usual small stakes, he then mysteriously falls off a cliff in his wagering amounts and we're supposed to swallow that it all stemmed off of a 10000 obligation? Then we're off to the races as he becomes this casino legend. Needed a little more development, and thats being kind.

The direction is clever, in particular the ironic use of scenes showing the symbiotic relationship of bank and casino. On the nay side, the small budget generates the expected technical issues, most glaringly, never once providing camera-work that remotely convinces you he's in either Vegas or Atlantic City. The casino interior shots aren't properly done to eliminate the claustrophobic soundstagitis, and the only exterior shots found in the entire movie, are blatantly in Canada. As example, there is a scene where Mahowny is contemplating life while standing on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. Its so obviously a lake or even pond and not the ocean, that its borderline embarrassing. Finally John Hurt, who i really like, is given liberty to really ham it overboard. But believe it or not, I genuinely like this film, and do recommend it.

PS/ I don't care that what anyone says, the woman who hits him up for 100 bux in the casino is Sandra Oh.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Truly excellent

8/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
7 January 2008

In "Owning Mahowny," Philip Seymour Hoffman proved before his Oscar win to be one of the great actors of his generation, playing a compulsive gambler who embezzles millions from his employer, a bank. Dracula is in charge of the blood bank.

Mahowny is a fascinating character. He's a cheap slob who drives an old car. Though he loves his girlfriend (Minnie Driver), he hasn't confided in her. In fact, he lies to her, as he lies to everyone. His god is gambling -- not money, just gambling. As Frank Perlin (Maury Chaykin), one of the guys who takes his action attests, "He just wants to have the money to lose."

We watch Mahowny get in deeper and deeper, creating false loans and stealing from his clients. He becomes a VIP at an Atlantic City casino where he is given the best of everything and offered even more, but he's not going to do anything that takes away from his time at the tables. Unbeknownst to him, the Feds are interested in some of his associates and become curious about this Mahowny guy, thinking he may be in on a drug racket.

This movie will keep you hooked throughout. Hoffman is brilliant and even sports a Canadian accent (the film was made there and the real Mahowny is Canadian). Hoffman comes from my home town, and as we are close to Canada, he is familiar with the accent.

The rest of the acting is uniformly good, with the standout being the remarkable John Hurt as the casino owner who wants Mahowny to keep throwing money at the casino and will do anything to keep him there. The insight into the gambling world is amazing, and may keep you away from the tables the next time you're in Vegas or Atlantic City.

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