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Rising young bank manager Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a quiet guy who is shy, even with his girlfriend Belinda (Minnie Driver). He is also a hard working and likeable executive on the rise, given access to a multi-million dollar account for an established client of the bank's. Which is only bad because he is a compulsive gambler. Based on the largest one-man bank fraud in Canadian history, in which a banker used up over $10 million in gambling splurges, mostly in the Atlantic City casino run by Victor Foss (John Hurt), and in Las Vegas.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As many films as there are about obsessive gamblers, Owning Mahowny stands out for its central performance by a sensational Philip Seymour Hoffman - or rather, an unsensational performance that is a marvel of stillness and depth, drawing us in to its black hole. The black hole is his addiction to gambling, an obsession he pursues with a fervour close to religious fundamentalism.

Indeed, casino boss Victor Foss, curtly but satisfyingly played by the great English actor John Hurt, remarks about Dan Mahowny while watching him playing at a table via the casino's security cameras: "He's a purist. A thoroughbred. I love him." As indeed he should, with Mahowny returning with ever larger bundles of cash to begin the cycle of winning and losing. He doesn't eat, drink, take drugs - and hardly even sleeps, as he concentrates on the gamble.

He doesn't even seem to enjoy it - well, one doesn't actually enjoy losing - but we later learn during a session with a psychiatrist that he rates the thrill of gambling at 100, and the next highest thrill in his life scores 20.

The screenplay focuses on Mahowney's compulsion, and its devastating effects on his life and his relationship. His commitment is total and absolute - to gambling, not to Belinda.

Hoffman gives his character an intensity softened only by occasional flickers of a smile, or a moment of desperation in which he takes stock of his situation in a darkly reflective stillness. Throughout his descent from the first fraudulent loan to himself via a fantasy new customer of just $10,300 - the exact amount he owes trackside bookie Frank Perlin (Maury Chaykin) - to the final loss of millions at craps and blackjack, Dan Mahowny continues to reject and deny Belinda's suggestion that he has a gambling problem. "I don't have a gambling problem....I have a financial problem."

Well, that too.

The film is successful in bringing us into Dan's world, which is why it's so engaging. We don't really understand him, but we recognise his problem, as well as some of his other attributes, such as his relative banking charm and ability. What's the most effective, though, is Hoffman's ability to show us that beneath his unmanageable gambling weakness lies a decent, desperate soul.

The DVD featurette includes interviews with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt and director Richard Kwietniowski.

Published October 28, 2004

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CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin, Ian Tracey, Sonja Smits,Chris Collins, Jason Blicker

DIRECTOR: Richard Kwietniowski

SCRIPT: Maurice Chauvet (book by Gary Stephen Ross)

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurette, interviews, trailer


DVD RELEASE: October 13, 2004

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