Movies » Movie Reviews

No aces up his sleeve

by

comment

Owning Mahowny (opens Friday, August 1, at the Little), the new Philip Seymour Hoffman vehicle based on Gary Stephen Ross's book Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony, tells the true story of a Toronto banker who stole millions of dollars to support a gambling habit in the early '80s. It's kind of a Canadian twist on our own Frank Abagnale, Jr. story (the real Molony, who pulled all of this off when he was just 24, now earns big consulting bucks to stop bank fraud).

            Hoffman does the Hoffman thing like only Hoffman can, hiding behind big glasses, a moustache, and a Canadian accent as Dan Mahowny, the youngest assistant manager in the history of one of Toronto's largest lenders. He's been put in charge of one of the bank's biggest corporate clients, and his older bosses only have glowing things to say about Dan's keen business mind.

            In one scene, those same bank managers gush about Dan's impeccable track record and lending judgment, only to have Dan enter his office in the next scene and find it occupied by two loan sharks looking for $10,300 to cover a bad gambling debt. To do so, Dan takes out a bogus business loan, and that's just the beginning of his intricate web of fraud. Eventually, he's swiping millions of dollars and popping down to Atlantic City, where he loses the money so quickly at the gaming tables, he becomes the obsession of casino manager Victor Foss (John Hurt).

            Director Richard Kwietniowski's last feature --- 1997's Love and Death on Long Island --- starred Hurt and was about a different kind of obsession. In that film Hurt played an old fuddy-duddy who accidentally stumbled into the wrong theatre of a multiplex and ended up with an unusual crush on a teen heartthrob (Jason Priestley). Obsession is definitely the theme in Mahowny, whether it's Dan's insane bets (like taking all of "one" horse) or the lengths Victor will go to in order to keep his unlucky whale happy and away from other casinos.

            There's a little more going on in Mahowny, like Dan's relationship with his enabling girlfriend (Minnie Driver, who sports what might be the worst wig in the history of modern cinema), but most of it is just a distraction from the always brilliant Hoffman. The trouble is, we learn very little about Hoffman's character. We don't really feel the rush Dan gets from gambling. But the subtle comparison between the ruthlessness of casino managers and corporate bankers is certainly tasty.

Most Iranian cinema that has found exhibition here in the US in the last year or two have all focused on the horrible way their society treats women. Awful? Yes. Awfully repetitive? You bet. While Abbas Kiarostami's Ten (screening Saturday, August 2, at the Dryden) would certainly be awe-inspiring entertainment regardless of the content, it's also aided by the presence of a strong Iranian woman who turned her own shitty situation around by taking advantage of Iran's bizarre laws.

            A successful experiment in Dogme-like cinematic minimalism (the filmmaker swore off everything but digital video a few years ago), Kiarostami's setup is simple: Mount two stationary cameras to the dashboard of a car --- one pointed at each of the front two seats --- and capture what happens when Ten's unnamed main character (Mania Akbari) gives rides to various acquaintances in Tehran. The film is called Ten because there are ten segments, each preceded by a bell and one of those countdown images we used to see before movies started. Some of the chapters are long, and some are short. Some show only the passenger and therefore are done in one long, uninterrupted shot.

            Sadly, the first segment is the best, leaving the rest of Ten slightly less impressive, though never once uninteresting. The opener is comprised of a 15-minute static shot of just the passenger, seven-year-old Amin (Amin Maher), who lays into his mother for conducting herself in a manner inappropriate for an Iranian woman. Apparently, she lied and accused Amin's father of being a drug dealer, which is one of the rare instances in which a woman is allowed to divorce a man in Iran. The two don't hold back, and their argument never once seems scripted.

            Amin reappears later in the film (he's the only male passenger), while his mom has encounters with a handful of other women in various emotional states. We see her sister, a hooker, an old lady, and a friend who can't find a man, which is almost something out of a stupid American romantic comedy with a Ten in the title (see How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days). All the while, the unnamed driver --- a very attractive, shockingly confident thirty-something gal --- yells at other drivers and pedestrians as she hurtles through Tehran. And she never once passes a Starbucks.

            I would not be at all surprised if somebody told me the cameras were hidden from view and the people in the car had no idea they were being filmed. Ten seems much more real than Taxicab Confessions, or even Jim Jarmusch's wonderful Night on Earth. Some people may get caught up in figuring out how the stories told in each segment relate to the current state of sexual politics in Iran, but that will only distract you from concentrating on what should be two of the year's most jaw-dropping performances (Akbari and Maher). It's yet another spectacular offering from Kiarostami, whose Cannes-winning A Taste of Cherry was largely set in a car, as well.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

Add a comment