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"Owning Mahoney"

Directed by Richard Kwietniowski.
Written by Maurice Chauvet.  Based on a book by Gary Stephen Ross. 
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver and John Hurt.
Release Year:  2003
Review Date:  7/2/03 


Man, I know it is early in the year, but Philip Seymour Hoffman NEEDS to get nominated for Best Actor for his incredible performance in “Owning Mahowny.”

Losers are nothing new for Hoffman, but this one sticks out because of the way he just seems to consume this role.  As $22,000-a-year Toronto bank manager Dan Mahowny, Hoffman just chews it all up.  The mannerisms, the walk, the aversion to eye contact, the cheap suits that don’t fit, the denial of a gambling man that just can’t get just felt like he turned INTO this guy, and I was loving it.

Director Richard Kwietniowski does great work with Hoffman, and he even does a great job of making co-star Minnie Driver look like a total hag...not easy, kind of like the work that Spike Jonze did with Cameron Diaz on “Being John Malkovich.”  The plot, based on the true story of Mahowny’s rise-and-fall in the early 80s, centers on the bank manager as he gets increasingly desperate to keep up his gambling habit, first by borrowing money from the bank posing as fake customers, then betting on simply any sporting event that could be bet on, from horse racing to baseball games to college sports to CFL games.  His girlfriend Belinda (Driver), a co-worker at the bank, becomes increasingly suspicious of what Dan is doing with his spare time, which eventually runs into trouble with Toronto authorities.

Although I would imagine the film was fairly low-budget, the shots of Atlantic City, Las Vegas and downtown Toronto look quite good.  As I mentioned, the director does a great job of making his stars look so common, and it helps to have folks like Maury Chaykin and a bunch of no-names populating his cast.  The script is sprinkled with enough laughs to keep things moving when the action is sparse, but the gambling seems to be top-notch and all of the sequences with Mahowny blowing cash in the casinos hooked me in.

I liked this film a lot, but I didn’t love it...even though, I am reaching for what I thought was wrong with it.  John Hurt co-stars as the head of one of the casinos Mahowny frequents in Atlantic City, and his part is so over-the-top it reminded me instantly of Al Pacino in “Heat”, maybe the most overdone performance of the last 15 years.  Hurt laughs at things that are not even remotely funny, yells for no reason and gets angry without any noticeable provocation.  One senses that Hurt needed a paycheck and this was the first role to turn up; I can’t fault him for that, but take the work a bit more seriously, eh?  “Owning Mahowny” is also a bit slow at times, and early on, it struggles whenever Mahowny is not seated in a casino whittling his cash away.

Otherwise, this is some good stuff.  The film has completed its run at film festivals and should be at your local multiplex quite soon, if it isn’t there already.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09