Owning Mahowny

In memory of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was a master of his craft, an irreplaceable talent, and whose untimely death is a tragic loss not only to his family and friend but to the art of a generation.

Owning Mahowny is one of the best movies you’ve never heard of. What’s more, it’s more-or-less factual; the names have been changed, but the facts and figures are roughly accurate.

Powerhouse actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (known ’round these partly simply as “The Hoff”) plays mild-mannered Dan Mahowny. His colleagues at the bank know him as quiet, dependable, maybe a little dull. They don’t know that he has a crippling gambling addiction… and his recent promotion has given him access to more and more money to feed that compulsion. And it turns out that the casino bigwigs (including an urbanely sinister John Hurt) are only too happy to help him feed it, no matter where they suspect the money is coming from.

This could have played out as a flashy potboiler or a slick heist flick, but in the able hands of director Richard Kwietniowski (who also directed John Hurt in the excellent Love and Death on Long Island), it’s a powerful portrait of obsession. For the first time in his life, Mahowny has the means to gamble virtually without limit, and that is what the film is about: a man single-mindedly immersing himself in the mixed pleasure and misery of an all-consuming passion, pursuing it wherever it leads him.

He keeps gambling, knowing it will likely cost him his job, his reputation, his home, his fiancee, his freedom. The Hoff’s performance is more than masterful; it’s the very portrait of intensity, of self-containment, of completely internalized mania. It’s riveting.

This reprinted review originally ran in VideoReport 341, February of 2012.

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