OWNING MAHOWNY, directed brilliantly by Richard Kwietniowski (LOVE AND DEATH ON
LONG ISLAND), stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dan Mahowny, a man with just this
one problem. Although he refers to his trouble as strictly a financial one, his
live-in girlfriend, Belinda (Minnie Driver), has it nailed perfectly. What Dan
has is a massive gambling addiction. Actually, she has no idea of the magnitude
of his problem, thinking that her paltry few thousand dollars in savings might
make some difference. Based on a true story, the movie reveals the depth of
Dan's difficulties which reaches the millions.
When we first meet Dan, he's just been promoted to the youngest assistant branch
manager in his bank's history. His co-workers can't understand why he still
drives a junker and pinches every penny. Frank Perlin (Maury Chaykin), his
bookie, knows exactly where Dan's money goes -- to gambling. With his own funds
being insufficient to feed his habit, Dan turns to "borrowing" the bank's cash.
Like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, OWNING MAHOWNY is good at giving us the engrossing
details about just how Dan went about his surprisingly simple scams.
Although the story is sometimes naturally funny, the movie is a drama, not a
comedy. Rarely has addiction been so addictive to watch and yet so sad and
frightening. Pasty and pudgy, Dan is an everyman who is a fundamentally decent
human being. In an Oscar worthy performance, Hoffman doesn't pull any punches
in order to make Dan seem something other than what he is, which is a man
obsessed with wagering money. Frank describes Dan's condition best when he
remarks that Dan "wants to win so that he has the money to keep losing." As we
observe Dan, called the "Iceman" by the casino workers, it's clear that he is as
unhappy winning as he is losing.
The movie is a one person tour de force by Hoffman, until John Hurt enters the
picture. Hurt plays Victor Foss, the oily, obsequious and disingenuous boss of
the Atlantic City casino where Dan turns when Frank isn't able or willing to
take Dan's increasingly larger bets. As Victor controls the gambling floor from
high above in a monitor-filled room, the scene immediately reminds one of Ed
Harris controlling the action in THE TRUMAN SHOW. Victor makes sure that Dan
gets everything he wants and more -- Dan rejects fancy food and prostitutes --
but not necessarily when he wants it. His favorite meal -- barbecued ribs, no
sauce, and a Coke -- are put on "permanent hold" until Dan has lost his stake
for the day. The kitchen just cooks up one batch after another until Dan goes
Dan is a money losing machine that you're sure will eventually break since, even
when he gets ahead, he steadfastly refuses to stay ahead. Hoffman ensures that
we feel Dan's pain. All of us, if we're honest, will admit that we have some
addictions and obsessions of our own. As you leave the theater, your conscious
mind (or subconscious if you aren't truthful to yourself) will be thinking,
"There but for the grace of God go I."
OWNING MAHOWNY runs 1:44. It is rated R for "language and some sexuality" and
would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes