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flick pick | Owning Mahowny 2003
Directed by: Richard Kwietniowski
Written by: Gary Stephen Ross (book), Maurice Chauvet (screenplay)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: , serious, true?!?
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis It's the 1980s and in Toronto, a mild-mannered, schlubby young bank manager named Dan Mahowny plugs away at his job at one of the country's major banks. His boss absolutely loves him, and keeps dumping higher and higher-profile clients upon Dan's shoulders. Dan never complains, quietly taking on all his assignments and getting the job done. His girlfriend Belinda, with whom he's just moved in, thinks Dan works too hard, but she loves him and thinks he's got a good heart, and so she forgives him for not being there for her quite as much as she'd like. She even defends him when he's late coming home because he's been gambling at the tracks, or ignores the other guests at a dinner party because he's so focused on watching some big game for which he's got some money riding. Belinda's a teller at the same branch where Dan works, and she's seen how hard he works; she figures he's earned the right to spend his money and relax a little in whatever way he sees fit. But what Belinda and Dan's employers don't know is that Dan has a secret life. His gambling addiction goes way beyond occasional forays to the track and friendly wagers on major sporting events. In an attempt to pay off his mounting debts to the local bookie, Dan's started flying down to Atlantic City on weekends -- playing for seriously high stakes using money embezzled through work. The casino down in Atlantic City loves Dan, plying him with luxury rooms, private transport, a personal assistant and his favorite foods. But for Dan it's all about the thrill of the gamble, as he takes bigger and bigger risks and wonders if this time, will it be the big pay off? Or will he finally get caught?

Review Owning Mahowny is one of those movies that you don't expect to be nearly as enjoyable a watch as it is. The real-life tale of Dan Mahowny is moderately interesting, sure -- it's always kind of intriguing when a seemingly ordinary schmo manages to pull a fast one on a big moneymaking corporation -- but it catches your attention in a quickie newspaper blurb sort of way; there's something about the story that seems custom-tailored for one of those made-for-TV based-on-a-true-story Sunday night movies. But Owning Mahowny, it turns out, is just a really well made movie. The movie starts off almost shyly, like the main character himself, quietly introducing us to how Mahowny looks to the rest of the world. As things unfold and we get increasingly drawn into Mahowny's secret life and the high stakes casino world, the pacing picks up slightly. The movie makes the cool decision to show us both Mahowny's side of things and that of the casino manager as well; it's a sad but fascinating look at how addictive the gambling high can get on both sides of the fence, with the house riding as much on their customers' losses as the customers do on the thrill of their victories. Mostly, though, it's the performances that really make Owning Mahowny worth watching. The supporting cast is very good, especially John Hurt as casino manager Victor Foss. But it's Philip Seymour Hoffman's wonderfully subtle, focused, exquisitely detailed performance as Dan Mahowny that really draws you into Mahowny's tunnel-vision world, and makes you kind of believe in him even as he digs himself ever deeper into a financial and legal abyss. It's not the nicest feeling in the world, getting into the head of a serious gambling addict, and you know from the get-go that things are only going to end in disaster, but like the gambler himself, you find you can't quite tear yourself away. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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