MISSISSIPPI GRIND. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Upton. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. 110 minutes. Rated M. (Mature themes and coarse language)
Mississippi Grind offers audiences an American road trip – but with quite a difference. It opens with the ravaged face of Ben Mendelsohn as Gerry, sitting and contemplating in his car. It looks very existential with angst, and it is. But Gerry is contemplating his fortunes and misfortunes in gambling, eventually going in to a familiar casino situation and trying his luck.
Inside the place, there is a cheerful character, Curtis, played pleasingly and effectively by Ryan Reynolds, who clicks with Gerry and they finish a night on the town. Actually, Gerry is a not very successful real estate agent, separated from his wife and daughter, living a rather miserable life, so it is not difficult for him to agree to go with Curtis on a trip from Iowa to New Orleans with a plan to visit his ex-wife and daughter on the way and (misguidedly) achieve reconciliation.
We see a whole range of characters, especially Curtis, his girlfriend and the girls who work on a Mississippi riverboat. Curtis has many charming but fickle moments, brought to a head in New Orleans when he goes to a bar, listens to the ageing singer who turns out to be his mother. Gerry has no success at all with his wife, even trying to steal some of her savings from her.
The two gamblers fall in and out of the luck, but Curtis has an easy going way about him and is able to succeed on the rebound while Gerry is an all-or-nothing risk taker. He perseveres in the ending is (probably temporarily) beat.
The film was written and directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, responsible for such films as Half Nelson, the sports film, Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Their shrewd understanding of characters, of the impulse to gamble and its consequences, are well served by the performance of Ben Mendelsohn, long a top stalwart of the Australian film industry, venturing sometimes overseas but, in more recent years, making his mark in American films, Killing Them Softly, Exodus: Gods and Kings, A Place Among the Pines. This is one of his best performances and well worth seeing.
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released December 10th