Owning Mahowny (2003) is a film about the struggles of the character Dan Mahowny who is suffering a serious case of gambling addiction, or financial challenges, as he puts it himself. He is a rising star in the banking sector, with a great prospect of going even higher, as long as he has his stuff together. But, not, his life is quite messed up. The story portrays how problem gambling impacts the lives of the gamblers himself and that of the people around them.
The movie is based on Gary Stephen Ross’ Stung. It stages the real-life of Brian Molony, a Vice president of a Toronto bank with a great reputation but whose Gambling addiction led him to embezzle about $10m in under two years.
What gives this film an edge over the likes of Ocean’s Eleven is the extent to which it shifts focus to the mental health of the character and his love for gambling apart from the crimes committed to fuel the addiction. Going by the nature of his addiction, it would have been an easy job for the Richard Kwietniowski, director, to follow the usual route and sensationalize the events in the story – a guy takes on the system, makes millions, only to lose everything in the end.
Rather, events in the film take on a different path, giving insight into how the mind of an addict works, especially one who lives merely for the thrill of the game. For the character Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman), there’s nothing else in the world that brings him as much pleasure as flirting with fate.
As the movie rolls, you get the feeling that Dan Mahowny loves to gambles with just about anything. Either he is hitting the aces, spinning roulette wheels, or is at the race track. Before he knows it, he finds himself in a financial situation, and when he can no longer satisfy his compulsive behavior, he begins to siphon money from his employer. He does do for two years, until at one point while the authorities are looking into his bookie, they discover his problem.
Another important aspect that the films shines light on is how casino owners operate – they identify and take advantage of gamblers that they feel deserve this kind of treatment. At some point in the film, the casino he frequents begins to offer him special treatment because of the money he has been losing every weekend.
As is the case with many other gambling films, the audience begins to empathize with the character, and in the film, you are going to feel sorry for the guy. You not only feel his pain but that of his wife Belinda (Minnie Driver) as well.
That said, it would be true to argue that the film wasn’t exactly perfect, especially if you pay attention to the final half-hour. Events are somewhat dull and you can easily imagine what’s going to happen. It’s not a boring film, it was well put together and the cast is great. The director did well to leave the glitz of Las Vegas well alone, and instead focus on the impact of gambling on a person’s character.