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Owning Mahowny

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Owning Mahowny

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver
Director: Richard Kwietniowski
Rated: R
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: May 2003
Genre: Thriller

*Also starring: Roger Dunn, Sonja Smits, Ian Tracey, Jason Blicker, Chris Collins, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin, Makyla Smith, Matthew Ferguson

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

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 bust.

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

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