The venerable Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in one of his few leading roles in Owning Mahowny, where he plays a seriously flawed individual that is going nowhere fast. Much like his character in Love Liza, where he played a loser addicted to gasoline fumes, Hoffman plays real-life banker Dan Mahowny, who is dangerously addicted to gambling. As in most of his films, he plays the role to perfection.
Dan Mahowny is a Canadian banker who has the alter ego as a high-stakes gambler that is on a terrible bad luck streak. To make things worse, he has access to bank accounts, and has even made many multi-million loans to fund himself. Obviously, unless his luck turns around quickly, he is going to be in a lot of trouble (and, since this movie is based on a true story, you can guess what happens).
Hoffman, who is known for his powerful supporting performances in such films as 25th Hour and Magnolia, finally gets a chance to appear in the majority of a movie. He starred in the aforementioned Love Liza, but that's about it. Again, as in most of his movies, he plays the role to perfection. He gets right in there and explores the obsession of gambling, and his unrelenting yet pathetic character is about as strong as one can be. He plays someone who is doing terrible things and who has terrible problems, yet both he and the movie in general make you want him to just stop and get away with it. Instead, he keeps going and going, creating a surprisingly suspenseful last half hour as Mahowny teeters on the border of success and utter failure.
Aside from his performance, the movie itself is decent. The movie becomes obsessed with gambling as much as its main character, and director Richard Kwietniowski does a good job of examining such a phenomenon. Nevertheless, he tries so hard at making Owning Mahowny more than just a gambling movie that he stumbles at times. The movie attempts to look at the relationship between Mahowny and his girlfriend Belinda (played by the ugliest Minnie Driver I've ever seen), but this element of the story never really connected with me. Furthermore, there is the relationship between Mahowny and casino manager Victor Foss (John Hurt), which just doesn't work at all. The movie sidetracks by attempting to explore this weird little relationship, but this storyline has little meaning and little point.
Owning Mahowny has a good story and a great performance from Hoffman, but lacks the conviction and focus that is needed to make this a truly great film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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