Owning Mahowny

Review Date:
Director: Richard Kwietniowski
Writer: Maurice Chauvet
Producers: Alessandro Camon, Andras Hamori, Seaton McLean
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dan Mahowny, Minnie Driver as Belinda, John Hurt as Victor Foss
Based on a true story, this film delves into the life of one Dan Mahowny, a young, up-and-coming Canadian bank executive who seemed reserved and non-descript to most, but hid a secretive gambling problem from everyone. Then one day, he started “borrowing” money from his bank in order to finance some of his bigger trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and the next thing you know…well, the life of a gambler ensues.
This film felt more like a Canadian “TV Movie of the Week” than anything. It featured an interesting true tale of a banker, a great lead performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as well as some gripping scenes of a man disintegrating before our very eyes, but ultimately didn’t have much pizzazz, didn’t truly develop any other character other than Hoffman’s and was about as predictable as Mike Tyson getting into a “controversy” every other 4-6 weeks. Actually, even Hoffman’s character is left as a little more than an enigma, with very little background put forth and even less insight into his own thoughts throughout. In a way, I appreciated that aspect because it allowed Hoffman’s own body language/acting to do most of the “talking”, but at the same time, seeing as it was a true story, I would have appreciated more insight as to what made this guy have such an addictive personality in the first place. It seemed as though the film was more interested in presenting us with various super-close-up shots of Hoffman in “despair” than to provide us with a greater understanding of his dysfunction. Being as he was the only believable personality in the entire picture didn’t help make the hour and forty-five minutes of him “moping around” pass by any faster either. I don’t say that as a knock on Hoffman, who as I mentioned earlier, is really good in this role (although I think we can officially hand him the life-time achievement award for playing the best “losers”), but a knock on the filmmakers who simply didn’t enrapture me with greater detail or better character development all around.

In fact, the secondary characters were also about as lame as you can get, starting with the pitiful Minnie Driver, draped in one of the worst obvious wigs of all time, fake glasses, playing a paper-thin character who we’re somehow supposed to believe is in love with this man, despite zero chemistry or potent scenes between them. A final shared moment is also supposed to be touching, but just had me “Gimme a break”-ing it. John Hurt was also oddly over-the-top “evil” here, in a role that might’ve been interesting had the screenplay given him any human qualities whatsoever. This guy is the ultimate sleazebag and Hurt plays him like an actor playing the ultimate sleazebag. There’s an extremely lame subplot featuring a cop on the prowl as well, but even that felt phony and gave us little more insight into the investigation than the fact that, yes…cops love doughnuts and filmmakers who have nothing else on their cinematic platter like to include that fact rather than an engaging back-story. Yes, anyone with an addictive, tunnel-vision personality problem should be able to relate to this guy…yes, there is an important message in here about how loved ones around these type of people can actually “enable” them to do what they do and yes, there is an impending sense of doom enveloping the entire picture, but…I got all that after the first 15 minutes. Having said that, the film’s final twenty minutes are pretty astounding, especially when you consider how “out of control” the lead has become by that point, and the film’s claustrophobic feel really works overall, but this is supposed to be a movie, not a “case study” or “public service announcement”, right? Sadly, I was also able to relate to some of this joker’s overly-obsessive issues because I too ran into that “challenge” in my own work a couple of years ago, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I would want to watch myself doing it over and over again for two hours. Yeah…I’ll pass on that.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

Owning Mahowny