Talking movies may seem like a cushy job. Since much of the job happens seated on a couch, I suppose that perception is literally true.
Yet moments of it are more like a scene cut from Indiana Jones. Like when I fished my copy of 2003's Owning Mahowny out from the garage that might have had spiders in it.
In public, Philip Seymour Hoffman's character is a respected and frugal banker. In private, he has a raging gambling addiction. After a string of recent losses, he starts embezzling from his bank.
Owning Mahowny is an uncomfortable movie because it is a movie about addiction.
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Most addiction movies are about the glamour. Not so with Owning Mahowny. Hoffman wears cheap suits and drives a car that expels more gas -- well, this metaphor is heading nowhere. Let's just say his car is old and pollutes a lot. Because it's also cheap.
His habit isn't. He starts with $10,000 in the hole. By the end, millions are riding on the turn of the cards. Which Hoffman doesn't appear to care about.
Hoffman captures the character exceptionally well. He is helped by strong writing from Maurice Chauvet and chilly, effective direction from Richard Kwietniowski. Despite doing great work, Chauvet hasn't come out with another full-length script since, and Kwietniowski's only made one more movie.
Owning Mahowny is a compelling movie with some sharp barbs at two industries built around taking your money with a grin: casinos and banks. The main difference between them and Hoffman is their form of fraud is perfectly legal.
* Contact Ed Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.