The gambling movie is familiar territory at this point, usually involving flashy suits, lots of yelling, and a big guy with a baseball bat saying something about kneecaps. Mississippi Grind is much more restrained in tone (the baseball-bat equivalent is a stern talking-to from Alfre Woodard), but equally extravagant in unlikelihoods. Nothing in this movie can be said to be completely unlike anything you’ve ever seen, except for perhaps one moment where the title of the movie is used to create a sense of dread simply because we know its the title of the movie.
What saves it is the great character work from the central buddy-gambler duo. Ben Mendelsohn plays a desperate man, and the depth of his addiction is slowly and painfully revealed to us. His worst enemy is himself, in ways we expect but nonetheless are painful to watch. The real mystery to the movie, and the perfect foil for Mendelsohn’s sad sack, is Ryan Reynolds’ mysterious free-wheeling good-luck charm, whose charisma and willingness for anything convince Mendelsohn to go to New Orleans to try his hand at a 25k poker table. At first, I was convinced that Reynolds only existed in Mendelsohn’s mind, as he is essentially a Jesus figure. But as the movie goes on, his own arc comes into focus in ways that counter-balance the depths to which Mendelsohn sinks. It’s effective drama, if not a touch minor, but its an interesting character study with some great shots and two great performances at its centre. It’s only a touch ruined by a lack of originality and a deeply unsatisfying third act.
Mississippi Grind (2015)
Dir. Ryan Fleck and Anne Boden
Starring Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds
Rotten Tomatoes (90%)