Mississippi Grind (2015)

  • Director – Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
  • Starring – Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Yvonne Landry
  • Writer – Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden
  • Year – 2015
  • Running Time – 108 minutes

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Hollywood folklore would seem to suggest that play the man, not the cards, is key to success at the poker table (Casino Royale anyone), however Mississippi Grind asks what happens when the man is not across the table, but instead is looking back at you in the mirror. That man is Gerry, (Ben Mendelsohn), who along with his perceived lucky charm, Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) head down the Mississippi in search of that elusive river card and a seat at a big money game.

Road movies are all about the journey rather than the destination, and partnerships, however brief, are at the heart of this journey. When we meet them, little is known of either Gerry or Curtis and what limited information we learn, we do when they do.  While both are willing to take a punt on each other, personal trust and truths takes time; poker is all about projection and this is clearly at play both on and off the table.

No-one does shambolic better than Mendelsohn, and his relationship with his counter point, the clean cut, fast talking and charismatic Curtis is quick to develop, though this is reflective of the opportunistic, temporary and financially optimistic nature of them both. They are clearly troubled individuals, and their pairing seems dangerously doomed and perhaps a little concerning circular, but their camaraderie is infectious with Mendelsohn and Reynolds an inspired pocket pair. As the journey continues they become closer, though also conflicted. Barriers come down and truths are forced into the foreground, which leads to some of the strongest scenes in the film.

Historically, Hollywood has a tendency to glamorise life at the tables, though thankfully co-writers & directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck take a different and more realistic approach.  The poker is more a backdrop, games take place in the background, the results intertwined into the narrative and no one feels the need to explain the rules of the table for those not keeping up.  Through Gerry we are also exposed to the harsh realities of gambling – the occasional highs, the more regular lows and the endless misplaced optimism which is needed to keep up the relentless chase.

Boden and Fleck’s confidence in their material is evident throughout.  The subtle establishing shots of each destination, with local sounds of the Mississippi weaved into the score work well, while the script cuts to the heart of life both on and off the road in an understated but effective manner, though perhaps loses its way slightly in the third act.  Outside of the Cohens, it is rare to see a successful co-writing and directing partnership, however it is clearly working here and we suspect is a large part of why the central pairing works so well on screen.

Mississippi Grind disappeared beneath the waters without so much as a splash on release, which is a real shame.  This is an impressive and confident character drama, whose central relationship lays bare the realities of gambling addiction.  Mendelsohn is shambolically good, while Reynolds proves he is more than a Merc with a mouth.

Highly recommended.

 ★★★★

Review by Will Malone

If you liked this then check out Shelter.

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