If there's any actor today who's blessed with being born at the right time, it's Philip Seymour Hoffman. Roly-poly, anxious, and pathetic-looking, in the '30s he'd play a bit role in noirs as a heavy. In a '50s western, he'd be the fellow in the corner of a saloon who got shot first. In an '80s teen exploitation flick, he'd be the fat fraternity pledge forced to perform some sort of humiliating rush antic. But in the Miramax era, where clinging to one last shred of dignity is a heroic character trait, Hoffman gets to be our new Brando. His role as a desperate gambling addict in Owning Mahowny is custom-made for him. It's a shame he's thrust into a film that seems more than a little desperate itself.

Based on a true story set in the early 1980s, Hoffman plays Dan Mahowny, a middle manager at a Toronto bank who finds himself swamped by gambling debts. To square matters with Frank (Maury Chakin), a bookie with a snow globe fetish, he uses his job's authority to set up fake loans and cash transfers. Hoffman doesn't play Mahowny as outwardly desperate; sitting at his desk with a loan approval form he's about to fake, he sweats and stares, but he's committed to feeding his addiction. There's a gleam of opportunity in his eyes, and you can feel him thinking: X amount of dollars means Y hours at the blackjack table in Atlantic City. Little else matters, including moral qualms.

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