Mississippi Grind

January 19, 2016

The first thing that popped into my mind, having watched Mississippi Grind, was ‘what was the point of all that’? For in spite of its fine performances, its plot of sorts and its satisfactory resolution, there was nothing about the project that marked the spot of its impetus. It’s your bog standard gambling drama, told a hundred times before, and often told better.

A down on his luck crapshooter, Jerry (Ben Mendelsohn) has lost his wife and daughter to his crippling addiction. It now threatens the one living thing that hasn’t deserted him, his cat, when the hatchet man of his local friendly loan shark(a wasted but wonderful Alfre Woodard) posts him a snap of his pussy with a passive-aggressive note of concern.

Into a tatty casino -and his life, walks ‘a tall leprechaun’, Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) around whom everything seems to go so right. The money and the good times roll and- when his head threatens to follow suit-when ‘that one last bet’ forces him to welch on his debts, he sets his sights on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow- or at the very least the Mississippi, a high stakes poker game in New Orleans.

Curtis, for reasons that are never satisfactorily fleshed out in the movie, funds his attempts to raise the massive buy-in, by hitting up every single casino, track and underground card game in the southern cities from Iowa to ‘The Big Easy’.

But while the movie chooses to demystify the genre tropes by focusing on the nondescript hotel rooms, the calm exteriors of the players in venues that blur into each other, the dull day-to-day delusions and realities of addiction, it lacks a sense of purpose, of intrigue and atmosphere.

The cinematographer Andrij Parekh plays out the road trip like a TripAdvisor slide show of neon signs adorning hotels, motels, fast food joints and petrol stations to a soundtrack of one sound fits all Delta blues.Meanwhile Co-Directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden let the story meander, flitting between seemingly inconsequential chit-chat and revelations as half-hearted as the souls expressing them.

But there’s ultimately not enough mystery to hold your interest. Mendelsohn gives an expert study in craven longing, using his hands to push away at his invisible demons, but the script is so slight that you, ultimately, never see more than one side to his character.

Part of the problems come from the casting of Ryan Reynolds opposite him, who delivers charm easily but appears not to have the potential to hint at what flows beneath it.

And as all the usual characters and scenarios sidle by-the tart with the heart, the lounge lizard, the little victories, the desperate losses- you become aware that Mississippi Grind has nothing original to say on the genre, making it a junk bond for those planning a nights entertainment.


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