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:: Owning Mahowny

The economic golden years of the 1980’s had just begun. Amid the headiness of Wall Street success and a booming banking sector, a new crime was hitting headlines around the world. With few security measures in place, the white-collar elite could easily skim profits to augment personal wealth; another yacht, another offshore bank account.

Far removed from these entrepreneurs, young Toronto banker, Dan Mahowny (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), drives a clapped out old car, wears badly fitting suits and lives in a very modest apartment with his girlfriend Belinda (Minnie Driver). He’s the nice guy at the office, great with customers and good at his job. The banking bigwigs look to him as a protege and with another promotion under his belt, his career is heading right to the top. By the time he was arrested he had embezzled 10.2 million dollars.

The story winds around two spheres of economic prosperity, the bank and the casino. In both, Mahowny is ‘The Man’, a high roller in two conflicting worlds. The pomp and grandeur of these settings contrasts sharply to Mahowny’s shabby life yet they both woo him as some exalted celebrity. So impressed by money, they act as enablers to Mahowny’s addiction, rewarding and encouraging him rather than asking questions.

Hoffman is understated and intense as the multi-faceted Mahowny. His portrayal of the pitiable villain evokes sympathy and an understanding of the way a gambling addiction can tear ordinary lives apart. Minnie Driver, with her shocking 80’s hairstyle, is the naive girlfriend who doesn’t know how to help him so turns a blind eye instead. Though not an overly interesting character, her anger and helplessness is convincingly portrayed and Driver plays well opposite Hoffman.

This true story of an unremarkable man who committed an audacious crime is as fascinating as it is sad. Director, Richard Kwietniowski has chosen a very personal approach. He cuts out the drama and media circus surrounding his exposure to take us into the secret double life Mahowny kept hidden for so long. It is the story of personal struggle against the thrill of a bet and gives a sympathetic insight into the social scourge that is gambling addiction.