Normally, watching a person sit motionless would not be considered entertainment, but Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Almost Famous”) makes it thrilling. Watching him sit at a blackjack table in “Owning Mahowny” provides some of the most interesting and tense moments of the gambling genre. Hoffman plays Dan Mahowny, a bank officer with a severe gambling problem. Based on actual events, “Mahowny” chronicles its namesake’s embezzlement of over $10 million to feed his addiction.
Undoubtedly, Hoffman is the highlight of “Owning Mahowny.” His intense stare, facial tics and quick, direct gestures are both depressing and enthralling. Watching Hoffman, one feels like the casino officers monitoring Mahowny’s actions on security cameras. The officers are first amused, then depressed by Mahowny, yet they cannot tear their eyes away from him. No matter how gut wrenching the spectacle becomes, one cannot help but be fascinated by Mahowny.
Hoffman is not the only actor who shines in “Owning Mahowny.” Minnie Driver (“Good Will Hunting”) turns in a stellar performance as Mahowny’s girlfriend, Belinda. Her character is touchingly na�ve, standing by her boyfriend despite his actions. Belinda’s unwavering support gives the audience a reason to hope for Mahowny. His downward spiral would not be nearly as captivating without Belinda’s efforts to help him.
“Owning Mahowny” is a well-crafted story. Driven by the realism and depth of its characters, it delivers a powerful, sad story to audiences. This film is a sobering, thought provoking experience. Who would think that watching a man’s stare could make for such a powerful movie?
Rating: 4 stars.