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Overall Rating

Awesome: 33.33%
Worth A Look61.9%
Average: 2.38%
Pretty Bad: 2.38%
Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Owning Mahowny
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by Jason Whyte

"'I could watch Phil Seymour Hoffman read out the phone book.'"
4 stars

I loved the scene in "Owning Mahowny" where Dan Mahowny is at his peak at the gambling table, millions in chips at his disposal, and a young casino employee who has been assigned to stand behind him and take his every order, leans over and says "You need to give up and walk out," to which Dan replies "Are you kidding? I just got here!"

Such moments like this is what makes "Owning Mahowny" stand out. which is surprisingly a Canadian film starring Phil Seymour Hoffman (as Dan Mahowny) in what is so far the year's best performance, about a lonely banker who is so obsessed with gambling, the notion of losing, and who enjoys "Ribs, no sauce and a coke" from time to time.

Mahowny is certainly no Dan Le Flambeur, but his lifestyle -- which involves working as a recently promoted assistant manager at a CIBC in Toronto -- allows him to take other people's money and gamble it away by placing bets on sports teams, or, even worse, at a major casino in Atlantic City. He has a fiancee named Lisa (Minnie Driver) who loves him despite his quietness and reservation.

The central portion of the film involves Mahowny at a casino in Atlantic City run by snarky boss Victor Moss, played by John Hurt in a performance that looks, feels and even downright smells like a guy who is only out to get your money, and knows where the high rollers lie. This means little to Mahowny, who turns most of his sneaky offers away; I liked the moment in the movie where Foss finds out about Mahowny's liking of ribs, and orders the nearest employee to "Keep those ribs on rotation!" while Mahowny is off in his own world at the table.

Dan is not even that great of a gambler; he places lousy sport bets to a loan shark (Maury Chakin), and when he gets to gambling, sure, he knows how to do Black Jack or Craps or Roulette, and he can even get a good winning streak, but watch what happens in a heartbreaking scene when Lisa, who has been stranded in a hotel room in Las Vegas while Dan is downstairs winning it all, and his reaction to her being there is one of the film's best moments.

Not many actors these days can pull off a sad-sack, obsessed loner with conviction these days, but Hoffman not only pulls it off, he can even register sympathy from the audience in simple scenes where he just sits staring out of his car window, or when he cowers in defeat at the poker table and keeps on gambling it away.

The film has been nicely directed by Richard Kwietniowski, whose previous work was the 1998 film "Love and Death On Long Island", unseen by me, and which also starred John Hurt. Kwietniowski has an interesting and quite subtle visual flair throughout the movie, especially in repeating certain shots a few times that have more reasoning later down the road. Most notable is an early shot where a high roller in Atlantic City is being led to his table by armed guards, and later on, it becomes Mahowny's turn. I also liked the film's music score by Richard Grasby-Lewis & The Insects, which gives the atmosphere a bit of attitude, but doesn't intrude.

"Owning Mahowny" is not without its imperfections; I could have done without Minnie Driver's character completely, who is somewhat useless to Dan's internal being, and someone whom, I think, would never even give a guy like this the time of day. Still, the film is brilliant in the way it gets inside the head of an man obsessed with something that he may not be very good at, but does it anyway.

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originally posted: 09/12/03 15:05:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/10/13 Mitch Mathis The plot is confusing and hard to follow. 2 stars
2/23/10 Jason Greenslit Predictable yet entertaining 3 stars
3/11/07 Ryan_A Goddamn, Hoffman is amazing. 5 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Hoffman is a treasure. A real treasure. Great film. 4 stars
9/20/05 ERIC ROBERT WILKINSON Hoffman's performance is controlled, powerful and brilliant! Amazing 5 stars
8/13/05 ES You'll be glad your not Mahowny= wow 5 stars
7/03/04 john bale Brilliantly acted "The Lost Weekend" of compulsive gambling. 5 stars
1/01/04 Luther Calvin This film will haunt you in its depiction of compulsive gambling. 5 stars
8/18/03 tim hoffman is perfect in this role... dont miss it... 5 stars
7/23/03 Kooler Hoffman is god 5 stars
5/29/03 Richard Dewar The best film I have ever seen about obsession and compulsion - Hoffman is brilliant! 5 stars
1/29/03 Hilly Excellent film 4 stars
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  02-May-2003 (R)


  01-Jul-2004 (M)

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