Gambling and casino films so often focus on the glamour of Vegas, or the big money high rollers who invariably land an incredible big potential win. Even when you look at films like Casino Royale, the gambling element always seems to go improbably well for the protagonist in the end – even if there are a few setbacks along the way, or in the case of the Bond film, the UK’s national security depends on it. But Owning Mahowny takes an altogether different approach to the subject, in a film that wowed many critics at the time of its release.
A somewhat obscure film that realised a significant loss on its budget of 10.0 million at the box office, Owning Mahowny is a Canadian-produced film, which focuses on a true story of gambling addiction. Fronted by Philip Seymour Hoffman, with Minnie Driver and John Hurt supporting, the story follows the tale of a bank clerk from Toronto, who would go on to embezzle millions of dollars from his employer to fund his gambling problems.
While not necessarily the happiest backdrop to a film, Owning Mahowny is credited amongst some critics as being one of the best productions of 2003, with Seymour Hoffman in particular coming in for significant praise for his lifelike portrayal. But is it worth digging out a copy of Owning Mahowny if you’ve not already seen it?
The film follows the journey of Dan Mahowny, a bank clerk who earns a promotion to assistant manager at a new branch. Having earned the trust of his employers over a long, loyal career, Mahowny is seen as the prime candidate for the role. However, behind the scenes, Mahowny is a compulsive gambler, with significant personal problems. This quickly turns to Mahowny syphoning money from the bank, which he takes with him to gamble on a trip to Atlantic City.
The story then follows the twists and turns of the action, as Mahowny gambles and continues to get himself further into difficulties. His girlfriend, who also works at the bank, is aware of significant problems in his life. Yet even she is unsure of exactly what is going on, which remains hidden from the authorities and his employers for some time.
When police begin investigating Mahowny’s bookmaker on an unrelated basis, Mahowny’s gambling is uncovered, which leads to a trail straight back to the bank. The story then follows the fall-out, as Mahowny is caught, and his life goes from bad to incredibly worse. A somewhat intense watch, the plot is nevertheless a gripping story, and the perfect backdrop for the impressive performances from the cast.
When you think of gambling films like Ocean’s Eleven or Rain Man, it’s all about the glamour of big casinos. Very rarely do you get a film that gets down to the ground level, and looks at the lives of individual gamblers who aren’t flying to Vegas for the trip of a lifetime. In particular, the look at problem gambling in Owning Mahowny gives this film a different slant to others in the genre, and while it’s not the best known example of a gambling movie, it’s certainly one of those with the best reviews from film critics.
You’ll enjoy this film if you like thought-provoking stories, or you’re interested in the true story that underpins the movie. The structure of the story allows for impressive character development, and the realistic portrayal from Seymour Hoffman is incredibly intense at points – almost enough to make for uncomfortable viewing.
This isn’t an easy film to watch, and you really do feel for the characters involved, and their lives as the knock-on effects of the protagonist’s actions unfold. Probably not a film you want to watch if you’re in the mood to party, it’s well worth seeking out if you’re a fan of serious cinema, or you’re interested in catching the Philip Seymour Hoffman’s incredible portrayal first hand.