Published Jan 01, 2006Gifted character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfectly cast as socially awkward golden boy Dan Mahowny in this chronicle of the real-life story of Mahowny's multi-million dollar embezzlement from a Canadian bank to feed an insatiable gambling habit. Sporting horn-rimmed aviator glasses and a tres-'80s blonde moustache, Hoffman exudes the same heavy-breathed desperation he did playing an obscene phone caller in the comically dystopian Happiness, but this time it's infused with a vague self-assurance; Mahowny knows he is good at his job, but not at his life.
The crimes in question occurred in Toronto in the early years of the greed decade, when assistant bank manager Mahowny, already in debt but unable to curb his expensive habit ("What am I supposed to do, go to the track and watch?") starts siphoning money from lines of customer credit to pay off his bookie (Maury Chaykin). He starts frequenting Atlantic City on the bank's tab to play the tables, to the delight of casino manager Victor Foss (John Hurt) and the growing suspicion of his Pollyanna girlfriend (Minnie Driver, wearing a bad wig and a worse Canadian accent). Often betting upwards of $100,000 U.S. per hand during his sweatiest jones, Mahowny quickly arouses the suspicion of even more dangerous contingents: the bank and the cops.
Director Kwietniowski (Love and Death on Long Island) manages to not only effectively portray the emotional state of the compulsive gambler, but of Atlantic City itself. Compared to the gaudy playground that is Vegas, it's for serious gamblers only: wannabe high rollers with cash-poor pockets. While Hurt plays his casino manager as a steel-tongued gangster more devilish and outrageous than any bookmaker, Hoffman plays his cards close to the chest, delivering a subtle, tempered performance that never falls prey to the roller coaster clichés of addiction films. Even when the camera is so close to his face that you can see all the blackheads in his nose, he never blows his hand. (Alliance Atlantis)