Owning Mahowny (2003)

He’s a bank manager; Dan Mahowny is one of the most hardworking and respected bank managers in the country. He approaches every meeting, every transaction, and every merger with confidence and the same gutsy know how of a bull storming into the office with the same old undersized suit he wears daily, but deep within himself few people know about the secret Dan Mahowny, the gambling addict fueled by losing which never staggers or stifles him, only keeps him coming back for more.

Mahowny now is stealing from his bank desperate to re-gain his losses. Now he has his sights set on the big time, Atlantic city, and as a mysterious casino owner named Victor Foss takes a fascination with him in hopes that he will lose his winnings at his small casino making him big time, he’ll grow to understand Mahowny the gambling addict. There’s been many films that indulge the look into an addict, from the drug addict ala “Basketball Diaries”, to the alcoholic ala “The Lost Weekend” and “Leaving Las Vegas”, but few movies have managed to delve into the life of a gambling addict. “Rounders”, a good film that peeked into the life was a glorified glossy look that pulled its punches and shy away from the concept of an addiction. “Owning Mahowny” examines the addiction of gambling in all its ugliness, from the sheer addiction of the adrenaline to the way it crumbles relationships that are seemingly flawless and of course the ugly results of stealing to feed the addiction.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman pulls in an Oscar caliber performance as the quintessential gambling addict. It seems he’s pulled in some truly excellent research on gambling addicts because during the sequences in which Mahowny (whose name scrambled ironically spells “how many”) is gambling, not once does he look up from the table, because there’s nothing from outside the world of gambling and his addiction which he refers to as a mere financial shortfall. As John Hurt’s character states, “real gamblers never react to a loss”, and Hoffman truly pulls off a feat in looking like a hardcore addict, because the sequences in which he gambles are so intense and he looks so focused, it becomes a real treat to watch what real acting is without a gimmick attached to a film.

What we witness during the film is the entrance of John Hurt’s character into Mahowny’s life and we watch as he begins to gamble on Mahowny whether he wins or loses. Hurt’s character is almost the embodiment of the sin in the gambling racket, Hurt hovers around Hoffman, watching him like the devil and tempting him with sex, drugs, and booze, always unsuccessful offers as Mahowny remains focused on his goal, even at the cost of his relationship (Minnie Driver). This is a powerful and tragic portrait of a man ruled by his addiction and ultimately destroyed by it. “Owning Mahowny” is a very true and psychological portrait of a compulsive gambler, unflinching in its nature and characters with a great performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.