Owning Mahowny (Canada/UK, 2003)

Directed by: Richard Kwietniowski. Being Canadian, I had always had this one in the back of my mind, not because it was particularly adored—well regarded, more like—but because it represents a stunning rarity even in the modern day: a Canadian production, set in Canada, about Canadians, that doesn’t look inferior to any American movie. Canadian film is a whole conversation that we can’t get too bogged into right now, but to make a long story short, the industry is small, and the barrier to entry is high, so you need a good chunk of money to make something that even just looks like a decent movie, something that doesn’t look like a fun, campy, low-budget alt-movie instead of just a movie (if you want to see what I mean, look at the fun camp-horror Wolf Cop versus the great horror Ginger Snaps, both Canadian productions). I think I’m just talking about the cameras, the lenses, the colour correction, etc, that makes the film look cinematic rather than look like a made-for-DVD-in-the-DVD-bin-at-the-Esso-station movie. So this movie already had a lot going for it—it looks like a movie, it’s based around an interesting true story about a Toronto banker who gambles in Vegas and Atlantic City, they didn’t change him into an American for the movie, and…wait for it…they filled it with big name non-Canadian actors, so there’s a good chance that people outside Canada might actually go see it. (Canada produces a lot of great actors of course, but their getting cast in one movie or another is purely chance—I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to see Hoffman here rather than, say, Matthew Perry.) And all three of these leading roles are played wonderfully, and are inhabited by some of the great actors of all time. My relationship with Philip Seymour Hoffman is complicated, mostly because he passed away tragically early and because I never thought he was the transcendent godlike genius everyone else did, and that opinion is not very popular, but he’s undeniably a great actor and he really did a great job with this character. Minnie Driver’s role is a little bit of the predictable jilted wife role, but Minnie is amazing and she brings a lot of personality and substance to this role, to the extent that it’s really not a standard “jilted wife” role at all, but a fully rounded character that makes it all the more interesting to watch Hoffman’s character descend into his addiction. More Minnie please! And of course, the late great John Hurt, one of my favourite actors ever, who as far as I’m concerned, never turned in a bad performance in his life. In every single thing I’ve seen him in, a wide variety of films and roles, he brings such a sharp sensibility, doing whatever the role needs, giving the film an invaluable spark, that spark that was in his eye, and perhaps that’s what I’ll miss the most. Any number of people could have done this role—this kind of seems like an Ed Harris role or a Robert Duvall role—but my god, John Hurt brings such an incredible dimension of life to this role! Even in a supporting capacity, he pushes it over the top, so you really remember each role long afterwards. And at the risk of gushing, I think he really takes this perfectly fine but average and unremarkable Canadian co-production and brings some heft to it, makes it a touch more memorable than it would have been otherwise.

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One response to “Owning Mahowny (Canada/UK, 2003)

  1. Pingback: Love and Death on Long Island (Canada/UK, 1998) | Offhand Reviews·

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