Film Review – Mississippi Grind
Depictions of gambling addiction in film have captivated audiences for decades. The formula is as simple as it is brilliant: bad decisions, often resulting in the loss of friends and family + pitying bookies and no-nonsense loan sharks + reckless abandon = cinematic gold. While I’ve (fortunately) never caught the gambling bug myself, I’ve seen firsthand how it can drive a wedge into someone’s life.
The brilliant Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, Bloodline) stars in Mississippi Grind as Gerry, our requisite sad sack with everything to lose. The opening scene finds him listening to a book on tape outside of a casino aimed at identifying a poker player’s tells. This in itself seems to indicate a lack of confidence, further implied by his mumbling-slash-sweaty demeanor at the table. Enter Curtis (a never better Ryan Reynolds), a charming chatterbox who joins the game and takes an immediate interest in Gerry (or more specifically, his bad taste in whiskey). Curtis seems to care less about poker and more about the impression he makes on those around him. Polar opposites from the get.
After unexpectedly hitting it big, Gerry decides Curtis is his smooth-talking rabbit’s foot and lays out a proposition. Hey stranger, tag along with me on a road trip to New Orleans for a poker game with a staggering $25,000 buy-in. Curtis, seeing the fire in Gerry’s eyes, not only agrees but offers up 2 grand of his own money to see it through. Hitting up every casino and home game along the way as a means to accrue the necessary cash, Grind comfortably settles into the road trip movie none of us were expecting.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story) brilliantly capture the tentative forming of an unlikely friendship. Only gradually do we get details of Gerry’s past and how this addiction has destroyed a marriage. In the most heartbreaking scene of the movie (which is saying something), he seemingly attempts a reconciliation of sorts only to immediately provide an example of why she left him in the first place.
Here’s where I reluctantly admit I’ve never seen Robert Altman‘s California Split, a movie I’m assured is a clear inspiration. If it helps my cause, though, I’ve seen Rounders way too many times.
Pretending to put my newly-developed Mendelsohn Man Crush ™ aside, Mississippi Grind is a nearly flawless movie. I wasn’t being flippant in saying this is Ryan Reynold’s best work to date. Boden/Flick utilize his obvious charisma in non-obvious ways. As Odd-Coupley as the teaming of him and Mendelsohn appears to be at the outset, all it takes is their very first scene together (just so happens the very first scene) to buy into their camaraderie.
If I have one problem with Mississippi Grind*, it’s the inexplicably happy ending that lines up with literally nothing we’ve seen up until this point. So much so, in fact, that I almost want to give the directors undue credit for a fantasy sequence so real I had no choice but to buy into it. That out of the way, though, see it and then thank me. I’m on Facebook and stuff.
*and I do