owning mahowny (2003)


director: richard kwietniowski

philip seymour hoffman, minnie driver, john hurt

The true story of a Toronto banker who embezzled $10 million to feed his rampaging gambling addiction gives Philip Seymour Hoffman the opportunity to add to his gallery of tragic introverts. While no one will deny the undeniable skill of Hoffman in these roles, it still remains to be seen whether all this great acting adds up to anything like a great movie.

Hoffman as Dan Mahowny, a middle management executive at the CIBC, manages to disappear entirely behind a bottle brush moustache and a lank comb-over. I tried to keep track of the number of times Mahowny managed eye contact with another character, but they were fleeting occasions that usually slipped by unnoticed.

It’s hard to imagine how such a timid desk drone managed to bilk his superiors so impressively, and director Richard Kwietniowski provides us with the usual gallery of self-satisfied managers and wannabe plutocrats. After the spectacular meltdown of corporations like Worldcom and Enron, this somehow doesn’t seem like enough.

We’ve learned a bit more recently about the ad hoc systems of fiscal self-governance in business, and the kinds of men who try to cheat the system. Hoffman’s Mahowny, an opaque cipher whose sole motivation seems to be his pathology, tells us nothing new about these men, and Kwietniowski’s film offers no insights and evinces little interest in how they get away with their malfeasance.

Instead, we have a film that seems to glory in drabness, taking its cue from its title character’s personality, and the 80s Toronto setting. To that end, the film takes place in the endless overcast of winter, and Minnie Driver, as Mahowny’s neglected girlfriend, suffers under the indignity of a really unfortunate wig. And when Mahowny’s joyless crime spree finally comes to an end, it’s heralded by what might be the slowest, least destructive car chase in movie history.