Best Gambling Movies #24 (Owning Mahowny)
“Best Gambling Movies of All Time” continues with #24. Each selection includes a new review as though I’m seeing the film for the first time.
Title and Year: Owning Mahowny (2003)
Director: Richard Kwietniowski
Actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt
Synopsis: True story of a Canadian bank manager whose gambling habits spin wildly out of control.
Owning Mahowny is a Canadian film based on the true story of a Toronto bank manager who resorted to embezzlement to fuel his sick gambling compulsion. He steals money from the bank where he works. Wow — sweet gig, if you can get away with it.
Spoiler alert: He doesn’t.
Mahowny is played by the late Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman who gives the perfect understated performance. So many movies are overshadowed by hammy actors who chew up every scene and spit out red-meat. Here, Hoffman blends into the drab scenery like office wallpaper. He’s the quiet guy at the office who you’d never suspect of committing a crime, the portly polite frump at the water cooler seemingly incapable of stealing for his wild weekends and gambling binges. This makes him the perfect opportunist to exploit cracks in the bank’s accounting system.
Ranked as one of the best films 2003 by several noted critics, Owning Mahowny is reportedly an accurate portrayal of Brian Molony and his daring if dangerous exploits during the 1980s while in the employ of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce [the title character’s name was changed to Dan Mahowny because the real Brian Molony sounded too similar to the name of the then-Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney].
On weekdays, Mahowny is the perfect bank executive. He’s meticulous with numbers, always on time, has earned everyone’s unwavering trust, and enjoys unlimited access to the bank vault stocked with cash. But on weekends, look out! Beneath that tweed jacket from Burlington Coat Factory, Big M is really a high-roller who’s flooded with sweet perks by Atlantic City casinos hungry for his action.
Predictably, the odds catch up with Mahowny. His financial hole turns into a giant crater the more the first-class casino junkets multiply. Addiction deteriorates into fraud and then felony, and that duality and downward spiral become the plot of this intense thriller we know won’t end well. By the time the handcuffs were finally slapped on, he’d
stolen gambled away more than $10 million of his bank’s money, making this the first time ever the house won and the bank lost.
The supporting cast members are little more than props for Hoffman who is immersed in one of his most underrated roles, including the late great John Hurt as a casino executive and Minnie Driver as the frustrated girlfriend. Hurt begins to sense there’s trouble brewing when he learns his whale is actually a small-time bank employee earning $22,o00 a year. But that doesn’t stop him from burning through credit lines $300,000 at a time. Gee, can someone please introduce me to the credit manager of that joint?
Meanwhile, Mahowny’s girlfriend, fellow bank employee Belinda (Minnie Driver) slowly catches on to what’s happening, but by then it’s too late. Besides, he’s such a nice guy. Nevermind that he’s betting the equivalent of his annual salary on every hand of baccarat.
“No, I don’t have a gambling problem,” Mahowny insists.
Okay, good. For a minute there, we were worried.
While Toronto police are investigating another crime the caper comes crashing down when everyone finally realizes this guy might have some gambling issues. Yeah, we know what happens, but it’s still fun to watch.
Note: The real Brian Molony received a sentence of six years imprisonment, a light verdict given the huge sums that were stolen. Later, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce tried to recover funds from Atlantic City casinos that were deemed as negligent and enabled a gambling addict to commit fraud and embezzlement. The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Worst Gambling Movies
#25 My Daughter’s Secret Life (2001)
If you enjoy the movie, read the book it’s come from. Stung: the Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony, by Gary Stephen Ross. Imho the best-written book on a gambling topic ever.
Thank you for sharing that, William. I should have mentioned this in the review. 🙂