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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
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brian McKay

"Mahowny? Yeah, I know him. Punk owes me ten bucks!"
4 stars

Based on actual events, OWNING MAHOWNY is the familiar tale of an out-of-control gambler - one who became out of control to the tune of 10 million dollars. But while the film has few distinctive qualities that set it apart from the usual gambling addiction drama, it manages to produce some moments of nail-biting worry on behalf of the titular character, and benefits from some solid performances.

Dan Mahowny (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is the assistant manager of a Toronto bank by day, dutifully handling other peoples' money for them in very large sums. By night, however, he is a compulsive gambler who splits his time between the table games and sports bets. His girlfriend, Belinda (Minnie Driver, in a throwaway role and a really, really ugly wig) turns a blind eye to his little "problem", having no clue of just how big it is becoming.

When he finds himself $40,000 in debt to a pair of loan sharks, he approves a line of credit for a fictitious borrower to satisfy the debt. The only problem is, he now owes 40 grand to the bank. Thus begins a vicious cycle of robbing Peter to pay off Paul before Paul breaks his kneecaps or cuts off a pinkie. As he tries to pay back the bank he's stealing from, as well as the loan sharks he keeps getting into debt to, his life becomes an intricate web of lies and avoidance tactics. He begins making regular weekend trips to Atlantic City, where he is greeted as a high roller by casino manager Victor Foss (John Hurt, giving the film's strongest performance). Foss is a right bastard, a truly mercenary prick who lavishes Mahowny with a complimentary suite and and endless flow of drinks and rib platters, all the while thinking up schemes to get Mahowny to spend even more money at his tables.

Meanwhile, Mahowny has his occasional winning streaks, and it even looks like he might crawl out of the hole he's in from time to time. But the thing about Mahowny is that even if he could win enough to pay off all his debts and get out of it unscathed, he'd just be back at the tables the next day. Naturally, this compulsive behavior finally takes its toll on the relationship. Even a limp dishrag like Belinda, who has been stood up dozens of times by Dan so that he can go gambling, doesn't take too kindly when he takes her to Vegas (where she thinks he is going to propose to her), then abandons her all weekend to play craps. Add to this a police investigation of Mahowny's loan sharks which tangentially leads to Mahowny's embezzlement, and it's only a matter of waiting for Dan the man to hit rock-bottom.

Hoffman wears the persona of Mahowny well, as the bland-looking, slightly-rumpled bank manager drone who seems to walk around with a perpetual slump in his shoulders and a look on his face that says "oh fuck, I owe a lot of money". Whenever someone confronts him with his gambling problem, he responds by calling it a "financial problem". What he doesn't really convey in the character, though, is the actual thrill of the game. While the film does a fine job of getting across the many downsides of gambling, one is only left wishing that it had made the act of gambling seem equally exciting in contrast. Even when he's on an eight million dollar winning streak, he still looks constipated. Driver's character is mostly frustrating as she puts up with Mahowny's abandonment time and time again, like someone with battered wife's syndrome who keeps making excuses for her man's behavior. Only when it has become too late to stop the impending downfall does she began facing the fundamental issues in the relationship. Hurt brings real gusto to his role, as the smooth-as-a-snakeoil-salesman casino manager. The character is such a despicable bastard, and Hurt is obviously enjoying the role so much, that it makes it that much more fun to hate the guy.

Despite some moments of lag (after all, how many scenes can we sit through of Mahowny sitting in his car in a parking garage staring into space after he's blown a load of pilfered dough?), OWNING MAHOWNY holds your attention the same way a train wreck in slow motion does. There's just something about watching a man slowly throw away his life that is darkly fascinating. However, it isn't the pinnacle of all the films that have tackled this subject before. So far, I've seen deeper and more poignant insights into the addictive nature of gambling on the FX show Lucky (John Corbett, Tuesday nights, don't miss it!).

What the average viewer will probably come away with from OWNING MAHOWNY is a profound sense of "There but for the grace of God go I." While everyone has an addiction, at least most people can be pretty secure in the knowledge that weed and the X-box will never lead to a ten million dollar deficit.

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originally posted: 05/03/03 05:08:24
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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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