Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) was a rising star at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. At twenty-four, he was Assistant Manager of a major branch in the heart of Toronto's financial district. To his colleagues, he was a workaholic. To his customers, he was astute, decisive, and helpful. To his friends, he was a quiet, but humorous man who enjoyed watching sports on television. To his girlfriend, he was shy but engaging. None of them knew the other side of Dan Mahowny, the side that executed the largest single-handed bank fraud in Canadian history, grossing over ten million dollars in eighteen months to feed his gambling obsession.Written by
Sujit R. Varma
The craps table that Mahowney plays at in Atlantic City has the "Big 6" and "Big 8" bets. These bets were never approved in Atlantic City and have never appeared on the layout of any of the city's craps tables. See more »
`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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