Owning Mahowny

on May 02, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
“Owning Mahowny” marks the second year in a row that Philip Seymour Hoffman has given a star-making turn in a film at Sundance. (If you haven't seen “Love Liza,” do.) Based on real events that took place in Toronto in 1982, the film tells the story of unassuming Dan Mahowny (Hoffman), a corporate flak at a bank whose hard work pays off with well-deserved promotions. On his own time, Mahowny is also a devoted gambler, betting obsessively on sports and ponies, and, when he accrues a bit of debt, he borrows a small sum from his employer with the hopes of winning back what he owes--except that he embezzles the funds from wealthy accounts.

The bank and government auditors, of course, are curious about some of his clients' financial activities, but he is able to simply and persuasively explain any discrepancies away. The scheme grows more elaborate as his addiction spirals out of control, until finally, when he's caught, he has stolen millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic City and Vegas casinos don't know what to make of this guy who shows up with thousands of dollars at a time yet drives a crappy car and wears a crappy suit. He's not interested in the swanky French restaurant or Japanese steakhouse--just ribs with no sauce and a Coke, please--nor sex, booze or drugs. It's not the money, you see, but the rush.

Simple and straightforward in style, “Owning Mahowny's” success rests solely on the very able shoulders of Hoffman. In addition to the period spectacles and clothing he wears, Hoffman brings this incredibly reserved character to vivid life with such understated tics as adjusting his glasses and walking with his eyes glued to the floor. When one has such talent, there's no need to show the action of the game--his expression, however subtle, tells the whole story by itself. It's an enthralling performance of a fascinating character. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Maury Chaykin and John Hurt. Directed by Richard Kwietniowski. Written by Maurice Chauvet. Produced by Andras Hamori, Seaton McLean and Alessandro Camon. A Sony Classics release. Suspense drama. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Running time: 107 min

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