Owning Mahowny (USA/Canada; 104 min.)


directed by: Richard Kwietniowski
starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman; Minnie Driver; John Hurt
Owning Mahowny
 
Bruce says: "In OWNING MAHOWNY, Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has just been promoted to Assistant Manager of a large Toronto bank when the loan sharks descend upon him. He has to come up with some money fast. Dan is an extreme introvert who has a solid reputation at the bank and goes unnoticed almost everywhere else. He is truly nondescript. His milquetoast demeanor is his greatest asset. How else could he embezzle over ten million dollars without anyone becoming suspicious?

"Philip Seymour Hoffman shines as the compulsive gambler who refuses to confront his addiction and has convinced himself instead that he merely has a bad 'financial situation.' His performance is heart rending and subtle. For example, when he cries at the end of the film, the tears that last but a moment have the impact of an uncontrollable sob. He is truly one of the finest actors not only of his generation but in the history of the cinema. What occurred to me while watching OWNING MAHOWNY was that he also brings out the best in those who are working with him.

"OWNING MAHOWNY falls into the true-life-is-stranger-than-fiction category. How do such things happen? There have been many caper films where exotic, elaborate plans have gone awry because of a stupid glitch, a wicked twist of fate or simple oversight. Dan Mahowny doesn’t even have a plan or a toolbox of personal skills to carry off a plan had one existed. He just bumbles along in his unassuming way skimming money from various accounts in the easiest of ways. He never appears overly excited or anxious so he never sets off any mental alarms as he withdraws money in fictitious names or bilks one of the bank’s biggest accounts.

"Like BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, what fascinates me most about this film is the noticeable contrasts between the Canadian and US cultures. In Toronto, one accounting aberration after another is noticed at the bank. Every time questions are raised, senior management and auditors accept Mahowny’s straightforward responses. They don’t question the statements of a gentleman, a worker who has a sterling track record. When an auditor questions an account overdraft, Mahowny explains that it was paid earlier that day when bonds were cash in; instead of asking for verification the auditor accepts the answer at face value. Likewise, as the high profile Selkirk account becomes overdrawn, the bank officers never aggressively question motives or amounts. At Mahowny’s suggestion the bank officers increase the Selkirk line of credit as a solution to the problem. Never once is it acknowledged that the Selkirks think their debt is five hundred thousand while the bank knows it to be in excess of five million. Details like that aren’t discussed in polite society.

"On weekends, Mahowny is slipping away to Atlantic City where he hits his favorite casino. Victor Foss, the smarmy casino manager (John Hurt), questions the source of Mahowny’s money immediately. When a private investigator reports that Mahowny earns but $22,000 a year in his middle management position, Foss does not want to know more details...ones that might make him knowledgeable about taking in drug money.

"Many Americans who see this film might not believe that it is based on a true story. With literally millions of cash and poker chips passing through his hands, never once does Mahowny break down and succumb to any materialistic urges. He does not buy a little Porsche, a string of pearls for his girlfriend or even a decent suit to wear at the office. Why, that’s downright un-American. 4 cats"

 
Chris says: "Wow, a year with two lead performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This dry-verging-on-bland effort about gambling from the director of LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND ringes truer than CASINO, at least. It could use some of SHATTERED GLASS’ intensity, as it’s also structured around a lie that grows exponentially through the course of the film. I liked Hoffman in this particular role a lot because you can barely sense any sort of character mask on him, apart from the one he hides his addiction behind."
 
Hilary says: "I agree with Michael that it is the essential "Canadianess" that makes this film interesting. This must be the most detached thriller ever made – I was amazed at the lack of tension I was feeling yet I was completely engaged with the story. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a great low-key performance as Dan Mahowny, a mild-mannered bank employee with a high-stakes gambling habit. His placid nature almost made me believe that he was going to get away with "borrowing" the bank’s money to gamble with. The supporting cast is very good, including Minnie Driver with a terrible case of Barbara Stanwyck Wig Syndrome."
 

Michael says: "Well a new Philip Seymour Hoffman film always means a trek to the theatre, and OWNING MAHOWNY was a quirky film based on a true story. Dan Mahowny has a gambling problem. Fortunately for him, he works at a bank, and quickly embezzles millions of dollars to feed his habit. Hoffman underplays Mahowny wonderfully in an interior performance reminscent of LOVE LIZA. He is ably supported by Minnie Driver (wearing a goofy wig, but handling the Canadian accent wonderfully) and John Hurt in a showstopping performance as an American casino owner in Atlantic City. It was also great fun to see smaller roles filled with recognizable Canadian actors like Maury Chaykin (THE SWEET HEREAFTER), Matthew Ferguson (LILIES), and Russell Yuen (LONG LIFE, HAPPINESS & PROSPERITY.)

"In fact, what made OWNING MAHOWNY so fascinating for me was the sheer Canadianness of it. Everything was so clean and nice, despite the fact that loan sharks were pressuring Mahowny to pay up on his debts, and that a white collar crime in the 10 million dollar range was taking place. There was no violence whatsoever, and even threats of violence were red herrings. The humor was absurd at times, and very welcome in such a somber, interior piece. In fact, as the film progresses, things get more and more absurd, and I found myself marvelling at the fact that this story was in fact based in truth! Director Richard Kwietniowski tells his stories quietly. He also did LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND starring John Hurt in a similar fashion. The music by The Insects captured the mood wonderfully. And there were some great parallel scenes, such as an early scene when Mahowny is stopped on the stairs of the casino to let a bigwig and his entourage pass, only to have that scene repeated with Mahowny as the bigwig who the crowds are being held back for.

"I think I'm going to like this film even more as time passes, but on the strength of Hoffman and Hurt's performances alone, it's worth the price of admission." 3 1/2 cats