Written and Directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden / Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds and Sienna Miller
Maybe I am old-school or old fashioned or just plain old, but I have this theory: if a movie is released on the same day on VOD as it is in a limited number of theatres, I always feel that the studio behind the film has little faith in it and it precludes me from putting any effort into wanting to see it. Despite the positive buzz, after it premiered at Sundance and then later screened at TIFF, MISSISSIPPI GRIND was relegated into that category. It’s a pity that this movie was not treated with more respect as it is the best movie I had seen about gamblers and their addiction to this pastime since Robert Altman’s CALIFORNIA SPLIT.
Ben Mendelsohn (ANIMAL KINGDOM) plays Gerry, a sweet natured, down on his luck gambler who meets Curtis, a gregarious, charming poker player, winningly played by (the getting-better-in-every-movie-he’s-been-in-lately) Ryan Reynolds. Believing that they can be each other’s good luck charm, the two men go on a road trip from Ohio to New Orleans for that one big win. Along the way, there are horse and dog races, casinos and both men reconnect with the women who had at one time meant something to them.
An equal part buddy movie, road movie and gambling movie, and set to a soundtrack of outstanding blues music, there is a lot more to MISSISSIPPI GRIND than meets the eye. As with writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s best known feature, HALF NELSON, this is a beautifully rendered character piece that is not afraid to show their characters’ flaws, insecurities, humour, hope or even their downright despicable actions. Yet, we become invested with these two guys. We thrill at their successes and feel pain at their losses. Much of this is due to the spectacular performances of the two lead actors. Mendelsohn (already acknowledged with his Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actor) is a dynamo, a force to be reckoned with. Gerry may be loathsome or desperate, but he is such an endearing character that one can’t help but root for him. Reynolds takes his stock characteristics and elevates them to new heights – it is by far his best movie role to date. Whereas MISSISSIPPI GRIND is not a perfect movie, as none of the female characters have any substance to them or originality, the look and sound of this movie is authentic and a joy to watch.