Owning Mahowny 2003 Movie Scene Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dan Mahowny a compulsive gambler high roller sitting at a blackjack table

Owning Mahowny [2003]

Some people like to drink, some people like to get high and some people like to gamble. To quote English poet Oscar Wilde: Everything in moderation, including moderation. Or better yet to quote Australian Government official Immortan Joe: “Do not get addicted to water, it will take ahold of you and you will resent its absence. Behind the rather cryptic title Owning Mahowny hides a haunting character study of a compulsive gambler. It’s based on the true story of Brian Molony, a simple fellow who still holds the record for the biggest one-man financial scheme in the entire history of Canada.

So, if you’re wondering what or who exactly is owning Mahowny, it’s the gambling addiction, the gambling addiction owns him. I only recently stumbled upon this movie while browsing through Philip Seymour Hoffman’s filmography. And he was a force of nature here giving one hell of a performance that will simply stay with you. And make no mistake, this is an incredibly difficult role. Our Mahowny is not loud, brash, or talkative. He’s ordinary, boring, and emotionless. Even when he’s betting $30.000 a hand, he still has the same stoic expression on his face. Security guys who were watching him play in the casino called him The Iceman.

And the guy who’s running the casino tried to please him in any way he could. However, our guy had only one vice. We will be following his evolution or downward spiral from the start. This will enable us to see just how quickly the whole thing escalates. And how, by making just a couple of wrong choices, you end up in a situation where you feel you need to keep making those wrong choices. The story unfolds slowly and meticulously, allowing us to fully absorb it. However, I feel like everything is just a bit off. The editing is just a bit off, the camera work, and practically every aspect of this movie is a bit off. I think they needed someone to tighten it up a little.

On the other hand, I like how they didn’t go this sensualist route that was an easy way out. Just think Rounders or better yet Molly’s Game and you’ll know what I mean. Still, this movie could’ve benefitted from a bit of tension. I mean, you watch this man do all these surreal things and keep wondering how this is going to end? How is he going to get away with it or how he’s going to get caught? And the movie doesn’t do a good job of translating that into gripping storytelling. Mostly because it’s squarely focused on one thing and one thing alone: Dan Mahowny. 

Come to think of it, they were really lucky with their casting as Seymour Hoffman not only looked the part he was the fucking part. You could feel just how much the role meant to him and how he successfully conveyed what, if anything, was going on inside the head of this seemingly ordinary man. Something the movie explains at the very end punctuating the severity of his gambling addiction. Behind the addiction is something far more common, a desire to feel alive. To feel like something is happening. I have to admit that weed did that for me for a long time. And in a certain way, it still does although I’m not smoking it anymore.

However, I do know I’m going to get high in the future and I guess that’s enough. I’m nowhere near our Mr. Mahowny but I have my 20s and my 100s. Finally, the movie also explores the world of casinos and high-end gambling. We can see how the owners are trying to milk every fucking buck from these poor people. Everything is run like a fucking factory with the camera’s strict instructions and everything else. I know that some people will find it difficult to watch this guy go through all of this because the sadness and the melancholy are all too real but I urge you to stick with it. It’s so fucking worth it. Especially because of that eye-opening ending.

Director: Richard Kwietniowski

Writers: Gary Stephen Ross, Maurice Chauvet

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin, Ian Tracey

Fun Facts: The reason for the name change from Molony (the real name of the guy) to Mahowny is quite a bizarre one. At the time of the filming, Canadian prime minister was Brian Mulroney, whose name sounds a bit like Brian Molony.


IMDb Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0285861/

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