Mississippi Grind review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
My first impression of Mississippi Grind was that of a bizarro Rain Man. I initially equated the performances of Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds to Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise respectively. Mendelsohn has a quiet and calculated sense to his character whereas Reynolds is more easygoing and vocal. The bizarro claim is on the basis that Reynolds is the lucky chip while Mendelsohn is in desperate need of a win. But as the movie progresses and further develops the relationship of these two characters, it becomes its own bittersweet tale that can slightly distance itself from being another watered down version of The Gambler.
Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) meets the charismatic Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) at a poker table. Gerry is down on his luck and become convinced that Curtis is a lucky charm after being stabbed when Curtis leaves a bar. The two join forces to go on a gambling quest for more money - from the dog track to the casino to high-stakes poker in seedy joints. Their trip isn’t glitzy or glamorous as most gambling films would revel of in the spectacle of it all. These two have something they want out of life besides money. Curtis desperately wants to acquire the love of his life. Gerry just wants to payoff his debts and do something nice for his six-year-old daughter he let down. Their journey is a somber one that is more riveting for how they deal with their distorted lives than whether the next card drawn is an ace.
We get to spend plenty of time with Mendelsohn and Reynolds that their relationship feels genuine. They chatter during a car trip about the tell of an age and find themselves laughing over drinks with a very intimate tone. Reynolds is his usual self as a sweet drifter who can make just the right joke and deliver just the right amount of affection. But Mendelsohn who steals the show more than anything. Sitting alone in a room with a girl, he finds himself vulnerable and confessing things he wouldn’t normally tell strangers. There’s a very uncomfortable moment when he visits his ex-wife to see his little girl. His daughter is not home. His ex-wife is still furious with him that she’s cut out his picture from photographs. He has damaged this relationship. And considering how he makes a desperate attempt to take money from her sock drawer to land a big score, he may never be able to fix what was broken.
The picture is perhaps too sad, however, as the pressure continues to mount on Gerry. While the movie does take a solid aim at self-destructive habits, it never really felt as though it culminated. Mendelsohn and Reynolds walk the line of comedic and dramatic banter, but it’s perhaps too natural that you wish the film would go a more fantastical route. We watch these two play off each other, inspire each other and conspire against each other to reach their goal of a big win. Their performances are decent, but the never comes a moment when you’re rooting for them to win. Big money will only put a bandaid on their deeper wounds. There comes a point when you just don’t care if they win.
Directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden craft a very traditional picture in the depiction of the sorrowful gamblers with a country soundtrack, modest lighting and a passively somber atmosphere. It’s just rather unfortunate that it’s hampered by slow pacing and a meaningless adventure. Mendelsohn and Reynolds do well with the material they’re given, but their solid performances do little to lift the characters out of their inescapable pit. Mississippi Grind is akin to going to a poker table and losing three hands after winning two. You didn’t completely waste your time, but you sure felt like you did.