Saturday, February 8, 2014

Owning Mahowny

2003. 104 min. Rated R – brief nudity, adult content, mild language
IMDB says... A bank manager with: (a) a gambling problem and (b) access to a multimillion dollar account gets into a messy situation. Based on the story of the largest one-man bank fraud in Canadian history.

The 73rd Virgin says...This isn’t one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s most notable performances, mostly because he is playing a real-life near savant banker-gambler-schlump-nerd. But it shows his skill with zero histrionics. In other hands, it would be a caper movie a la Catch Me If You Can, but director Richard Kwietniowski, the moody neo-jazz-ish score, and Hoffman make it something different.

Dan Mahowny is a chubby, disheveled, inward and downward-looking - but up and coming - young bank executive. He drives a smoking wreck of a car and wears cheap suits to the bewilderment of his co-workers. He also flies from Toronto to Atlantic City every weekend, gambles incessantly on any sport available, and fends off the slightly threatening bookie to whom he owes at least $10,000. By crossing the border, there is little way for Canadian banking authorities to make the connection.

Then things start to get bad.

Mahowny is promoted to a position that will allow him to create fake entities, inflate their credit worthiness, loan them money, etc. All while seeking the one big day at the casinos. The viewer can appreciate how this decent, even kind man can make the one false move that will enable his bad habit to become an all-consuming self-destruction.

Hoffman develops the hook of holding his head and/or slippy 80s glasses in a way that projects deep concentration and deep self-hatred in equal measure. He is also mic’d or recorded in such a way as to pick up every nervous breath.

But in this scene he smoothly deflects a bank auditor like a pro, which he is.

Minnie Driver, in the unfortunate hair and glasses of the time, is memorable as his utterly devoted girl-friend, Belinda, who – dim as she is – can still see his problem from a mile away.

John Hurt plays casino manager, Victor Foss, with as much high viscosity oil as the role can tolerate. If you only know Hurt for his wounded roles, his garish rapacity is refreshing.

The script brings admirable detail to the casino’s patented process of landing a whale. When he travels with his uninformed friend, and takes out $100,000 in chips, the earth moves. Only this whale doesn’t want prostitutes, fancy European meals, or a big room with three fireplaces. He wants to gamble, and he would like a plate of ribs, no sauce, and a coke. We get to see how, when he’s winning, management will do ANYTHING to keep him playing, and when he’s losing, the genuine affection they have for this guy and his foibles. The mob has been corporatized, but it still knows the levers and fulcrums of addictive behavior. They feel kinda bad about crushing people, but it’s what they do.

Listen to Hoffman’s voice at the end of the clip.

And it’s all pretty closely based on a true story.

Second-line supporting roles, script and acting are workmanlike but not altogether believable. We get a laugh out of the Toronto police obsessing over how this guy moving so much money around MUST be a drug dealer.

This is no masterpiece and it wasn’t a hit obviously, but it is engrossing in its detail and occasional humor. Other Hoffman roles can be set up as monuments to the actor, but this final scene with a shrink provides perhaps a fake-but-accurate epitaph.

I am personally very sad. RIP.

No comments:

Post a Comment