"Owning Mahowny" has recently been released on DVD, and provides a stark contrast to the typical movie about casinos. Yes, there's a multi-million dollar heist, a cop trying to unravel the crime and catch the crook, shady underworld figures, high rollers in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and a car chase. But this is no "Oceans 11", "The Good Thief", or even "Casino".
"Owning Mahowny" is based on the true story of Dan Mahowny, an assistant bank manager in Toronto, who, in the early 80s, embezzled and gambled away millions of dollars. He is portrayed in the movie by Philip Seymour Hoffman, which also features John Hurt and Minnie Driver. Hoffman adds yet another great role to his roster as one of the best character actors working today.
The movie is not glamorous, it starts off drably, and gets more tense, grey and desperate as it goes along, but also funny at the same time. Hoffman's Dan Mahowny is a fat, balding bank employee with a bad suit, a shitty car and no taste or style (and as an aside Driver is wearing a blonde wig so horrifyingly bad, if you haven't checked the credits you spend the first 20 minutes trying to place where you know the actress from).
The plot is that Dan Mahowny owes a couple of thousand to a bookie, so he writes himself a loan, pays the bookie, then goes to Atlantic City to win back the money to replace it, which he loses. He then escalates, trying to cover up his fraud. However he can't quit. The casino manager (played by Hurt) is trying to figure out who this guy is, all he does is gamble, he doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs, refuses the hookers, all he does is gamble. Nobody in the casino believes he works in a bank making $22,000 a year (Canadian), drives a shitty car, and lives in a shabby apartment with his girlfriend.
There is no glitz, and everything is low-rent. Eventually he is caught because the cop has to justify spending $50 a month to tap the bookie's phone, which leads to a low speed chase until Dan's car stalls.
The DVD only has an added featurette with the main actors telling you what you just watched. However, the movie provides a rare does of reality to all those other movies.