Owning Mahowny (2003)

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Released 24-Feb-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-The Party's Over, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories
Trailer-Letters To Ali, Osama, Safe, Tais Toi!, Elephant
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 100:59
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:06) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Richard Kwietniowski
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman
Minnie Driver
John Hurt
Maury Chaykin
Ian Tracey
Sonja Smits
Chris Collins
Jason Blicker
Vince Corazza
Roger Dunn
Eric Fink
Mike 'Nug' Nahrgang
Tanya Henley
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Richard Grassby-Lewis
The Insects


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Isn't Philip Seymour Hoffman just one of the great actors of his generation? I have yet to see him deliver a less than excellent performance. Whether in the superb The Talented Mr. Ripley, the confronting Happiness, the scary Red Dragon, the stunning Magnolia or this latest piece - Owning Mahowny. He really lends a total credibility to every character, and his performance as the newly appointed assistant bank manager Dan Mahowny is another wonderful turn.

    The film is based on a true story, which took place in Toronto in 1982. Dan Mahowny (Hoffman) is the epitome of middle class respectability. He has just become the youngest ever assistant manager at the bank for which he works. He has a respectable, if rather strait-laced girlfriend (Minnie Driver) and is rapidly heading towards a staid but respectable career and marriage. All is not well in the world of Mahowny however - he has a major gambling problem, which consumes far more energy than he can spare...and far more money than he can legally earn.

    When Mahowny is pressured by his bookie to repay a debt of $10,300 he resorts to the desperate measure of "borrowing" exactly that amount from his employers - without asking first. This causes him immense stress, and we sense that he is taking the first step down a very slippery slope. Before long he is making a habit of such illegal transactions...and they are getting bigger all the time.

    As Mahowny branches out in his gambling exploits, he begins to visit Las Vegas and Atlantic City - home to the glitzy casinos which offer the rare opportunity for legal gambling in the USA. In Atlantic City, the fact that he is such a high-rolling loser soon attracts the attention of the casino manager. The sleazy Victor Foss (John Hurt) realises that there is a lot of money to be made from Mahowny, and he certainly isn't interested in where he is getting the funds from. By extending the hospitality of the Casino, from hotel suites to free food and free sex, Foss is determined to milk Mahowny for every penny he can get his hands on. We can only watch with a growing sense of the inevitable as the self-destructive Mahowny's life becomes increasingly focused on securing the funds for his next gambling trip. By the time his magnificent obsession comes to the attention of the bank, he will have "borrowed" over $10 million from their funds...

    Owning Mahowny was never going to make a fortune at the box office. It is too worthy, with a very focused agenda - more fascinating than entertaining. The film provides a glimpse into the sad and sordid world of compulsive gambling, and does anything but romanticise it. It is obvious from the start that Mahowny is a loser, and is going to keep on losing until he is stopped by someone else. There is going to be no self-realisation, and no redemption, that much is obvious from the first time we see Hoffman gamble. It is to the credit of Hoffman that the intensity of his performance, the almost robotic submission to his addiction, makes such a dour film so compelling. The restrained intensity of his performance also serves to highlight the weakest aspect of the film. Hoffman's performance is riveting, but Driver (in a hideously poor wig) and Hurt are both wasted in under-developed roles.

    Recommended to fans of mature character study and to anyone who admires the very high quality of Hoffman's work. Those looking for excitement and action, rather than tension and desperation, would probably be happier viewing something lighter like Catch Me If You Can.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video quality of this transfer is quite good.

    The video is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. It is generally very sharp throughout, and comes across as a very clean and clear transfer at all times.

    There are plenty of dark scenes on offer, especially within the eternal twilight of the casinos. Thankfully black levels are deep and solid with no sign of low level noise. Shadow detail is very good throughout, with an appropriate degree of detail evident at all times. Colours are solidly rendered albeit with an occasional tendency towards the green end of the spectrum. Skin tones look pretty natural throughout.

    I noticed no significant MPEG artefacts and little in the way of grain or pixelisation. There was some persistent edge enhancement present , but this was not a significant distraction at any time. Aliasing was not noticeable on my (progressive scan) system. Telecine wobble is occasionally evident (for example during the opening titles or around 17:50).

    Film artefacts are rare in what is a pretty clean transfer.

    The English for the Hard of Hearing subtitles are well timed and easy to read, being presented in a yellow font. They provide attribution for off-screen dialogue and follow the script very closely at all times.

    The disc is RSDL formatted, with the essentially unnoticed layer change cropping up at 66:06.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The overall audio transfer is reasonable.

    The main English audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 kbps, with a secondary track in Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps. They are both highly serviceable and either will suffice given the dialogue heavy nature of the film, but the surround version features some reasonable ambience and the occasional impressive surround effect.

    There are no major issues with audio defects such as hiss, clicks or pops. Dialogue is almost always clear, but it is occasionally a little on the quiet side, and I found I had to crank my amp up a couple of notches to make out every word clearly. Audio sync was not a problem.

    The main score is credited to Richard Grassby-Lewis whose only other work of note appears to be in another film by the English director Richard Kwietniowski (Love and Death on Long Island). It does a fairly solid job, with a mix of funky jazz/blues and more subtle piano melody. Whilst it is not particularly memorable, it does help to build a sense of tension and foreboding as Mahowny slides ever further into debt at the casino tables, and comes under the scrutiny of both law enforcers and bank auditors.

    The overall audio stage is generally quite frontal - unsurprising given the nature of the film. The front speakers give a reasonable stereo spread, whilst the centre channel does a workmanlike job of transmitting the all-important dialogue. The surround channels see some use, but are generally restricted to carrying the musical score. Banks are fairly quiet places to be sure, but there could have been more use made of the surrounds for background ambience in the casino. There are a couple of outstanding spot surround effects associated with the rotation of the roulette wheel however (for instance around 1:13), where you can hear the little ball roll around every speaker in the room just perfectly.

    The subwoofer was used mainly to support the musical score and there is little of significance in the way of LFE here.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are a couple of minor extras present.

Menu

    The main menu is a slightly animated photograph of Mahowny and some casino chips accompanied by a loop of the bluesy score. It allows the basic options of playing the movie, choosing from a couple of dozen chapter stops, activating the subtitles and choosing the audio language or watching the following extras:

Featurette

    Running for a brief 8:16 and presented full screen (1.33:1) with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track encoded at 224 kbps. It is fairly typical EPK material with input from Hoffman, Hurt and director Richard Kwietniowski.

Theatrical Trailer

    Running for 1:59 and presented letterboxed (not 16x9 enhanced) with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track encoded at 224 kbps.

Madman Propaganda

    Trailers for other releases by Madman. Generally presented letterboxed (not 16x9 enhanced) with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track encoded at 224 kbps:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 release appears to be better endowed than its Region 1 cousin for a change.

    The Region 1 release misses out on the featurette and contains trailers for Love Liza, Owning Mahowny, Punch-Drunk Love and Masked and Anonymous as the sole extra features. The audio transfers appear similar, but the Region 1 video transfer is generally considered mediocre. The fact that Region 1 put the film on a DVD 5 disc (as opposed to Region 4's DVD 9) may be the reason why our video transfer seems much better.

    The Region 4 release would seem to be the clear winner this time around.

Summary

    Based on a true story, Owning Mahowny is a tale of gambling addiction and the overwhelming effect it can have on the life of a perfectly decent man. Dan Mahowny is the youngest ever assistant manager at his Canadian bank. When he begins embezzling funds to feed his gambling addiction, it soon destroys his career and his personal relationships. No surprises here, but as ever, an excellent performance from the always watchable Philip Seymour Hoffman saves the day and makes this worth watching for fans.

    The video quality is rather good overall.

    The audio transfer is reasonable.

    Extras are slight, but we fare better than the Region 1 release.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Friday, November 19, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDMomitsu V880 upconverting DVI player, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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