Owning Mahowny

Based on the true story of a nondescript bank manager who embezzled more than $10 million to fund his obsessive gambling habit, Richard Kwietniowski's icy film charts a gray man's descent into a colorful hell of his own making. Quiet, nondescript Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) wears off-the-rack suits, eats at inexpensive restaurants, drives a mid-priced...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Based on the true story of a nondescript bank manager who embezzled more than $10 million to fund his obsessive gambling habit, Richard Kwietniowski's icy film charts a gray man's descent into a colorful hell of his own making. Quiet, nondescript Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) wears off-the-rack suits, eats at inexpensive restaurants, drives a mid-priced car and has an equally colorless girlfriend, Belinda (Minnie Driver). At the height of the go-go '80s financial boom, he's the personification of an old-fashioned banker — conservative, self-effacing and dull. But beneath the drab exterior, Mahowny harbors a secret passion: gambling. Mahowny's bookie (Maurey Chapin) threatens to cut him off after a losing streak that leaves him deeply in hock, so Mahowny begins appropriating funds from his largest account. Mahowny is a reckless gambler who bets without a system or inside information — his compulsion is to get the money on the table. He progresses from betting on horses and sports to Atlantic City, where casino manager Victor Foss (John Hurt) figures him for the new high roller in town — albeit a particularly unprepossessing one — and treats him accordingly. But Mahowny isn't interested in the perks — top-shelf liquor, gourmet meals, luxury suites, slinky call girls in chinchilla chubbies — he just wants to gamble, and Foss happily smooths the way to the tables. When Mahowny's house of cards comes tumbling down, both the bank and the casino are left naked in the rubble, their vulnerabilities cruelly exposed. Working from Gary Ross's 1987 non-fiction account Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony (who presumably became Mahowny for the purposes of fictionalizing parts of his story), the film explores very much the same emotional territory as Karel Reisz's THE GAMBLER (1974). But Kwietniowski leaches every visible trace of excitement or elation from Mahowny's addiction, leaving only a damp chill of desperation. It's a risky approach that isolates Hoffman's Mahowny in a personal dead zone, as though his every human trait has been entirely subsumed into his habit; though perversely audacious, this strategy prevents Hoffman from making Mahowny anything but a cipher. With its protagonist relegated to the emotional sidelines the film coasts along on brisk efficiency, chronicling heedless self-destruction with a detachment that's positively glacial. Ironically, it's most engaging when the focus shifts to Hurt's matter-of-factly amoral enabler, whose glistening suits and jewel-colored shirt-and-tie combinations suggest a particularly poisonous tropical reptile.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Based on the true story of a nondescript bank manager who embezzled more than $10 million to fund his obsessive gambling habit, Richard Kwietniowski's icy film charts a gray man's descent into a colorful hell of his own making. Quiet, nondescript Dan Mahow… (more)

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