A couple of powerhouse performances are at the heart of this drama about a pair of gamblers, one of whom lays it all on the line. Mississippi Grind was inspired by films from the ‘70s such as Five Easy Pieces, Scarecrow, The Last Detail, California Split and Midnight Cowboy. The movie is about flawed characters trying to do better.
Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is an out of luck gambler and poker player that is just about at the end of his rope when he meets a charming, dynamic free spirit, Curtis (Ryan Reynolds). He immediately sees something almost magical in Curtis and decides this guy is his lucky charm.
As co-writers and co-directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden say, the characters’ relationship starts off like that … “two boys who like playing in the sandbox together”. “Of course as they get to know each other, things get more complicated and they stop playing so nice. But there’s a real affection between them, which both … seem to need.”
Once married, Gerry also fathered a daughter he no longer sees. Basically, he blew it and gambling is undoubtedly an addiction he can’t do without. Gerry convinces his new best mate to hit the road with him, leading towards a legendary high stakes poker game in New Orleans. In short, they gamble they way down the Mississippi River, collecting no shortage of bumps and bruises along the way. You see, the path they seem to be traversing is, indeed, filled with potholes.
Curtis is the more difficult of the pair to read. He has the more complex persona. While looking to help out a newfound friend, he is also not afraid to ask for a pummeling. Curtis can’t sit still for too long. He seems to have an incessant need to move from town to town, never settling down. Along the way, he takes a wayside stop to visit one of the loves of his life, a role filled by Sienna Miller.
Gerry, on the other hand, freely admits towards the end of the film that he isn’t a good guy. His desperation leads him to a pretty despicable act with his ex. Gerry looks weather beaten, like the years have taken their toll.
One of the beauties of Mississippi Grind is that you’re never too sure what will happen next to the two protagonists … and the ending is not signaled. In short, this is a character-driven picture about a journey with an unknown destination. Rated M, it scores a 7 to 7½ out of 10.
Director: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds and Sienna Miller
Release date: 10 December 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television