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Owning Mahowny
cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin, Minnie Driver, and Sonja Smits

director: Richard Kwietniowski

104 minutes (15) 2003 widescreen ratio 16:9
Momentum DVD Region 2 rental or retail
Also available to rent or buy on video
[released 16 February]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Dan Mahowny doesn't have a gambling problem, oh no; what he has is a slight financial shortfall, that he can cure by gambling. Or he could, if he didn't automatically, thoughtlessly place more bets every time he pays off his old losses... But maybe there's a way round this. He works in a bank, authorising business loans, and it proves fatally easy to withdraw cash on his clients' lines of credit. Soon the casinos of Atlantic City and Vegas are competing for his business: finding out his likes and dislikes, bribing him with hotel rooms and hookers - and only too happy to bend financial rules to allow him to transfer credit without attracting attention. But his straight-laced fiancée, and fellow bank employee, Belinda, soon discovers his addiction - and he can't keep covering his tracks forever...
   The mind of the compulsive gambler is a strange place. Mahowny claims gambling gives him the greatest thrill of his life, but he plays like an automaton, blank-faced and unmoved; millions of dollars pass through his hands, but he dresses like a slob and ignores the pleasures of the flesh. So what really drives people like him? Despite being based on one of Canada's most famous bank fraud cases, Owning Mahowny has few answers.
   What it does bring to life is the way casinos manipulate and flatter their high-rolling customers. Phillip Seymour Hoffman may have the title role, and gives a finely nuanced performance in it, but the real powerhouse of the film is John Hurt's wolfish casino boss, who'll stop at nothing to get Mahowny's money (and get one up on the casino's Vegas branch). An unrecognisably frumpy Minnie Driver gives fine support as the bewildered, long-suffering Belinda.
   Owning Mahowny is an interesting but strangely distant film. Despite Hoffman's delicate performance, you don't feel you're any closer to understanding Mahowny at the end than the beginning; that's probably the point, but it makes for a slightly frustrating experience. It's a decent enough film, but, despite some interesting insights into the casino business and great performances all round, there isn't quite enough insight here to lift Owning Mahowny above any number of other gambling movies.

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