“Mississippi Grind” is a solid and engaging drama about the extreme highs and lows of the world of gambling. This low-budget indie more effectively portrays this culture (just how quickly you can make money – and how destructive it can be when you lose it) than both Mark Wahlberg’s recent remake of “The Gambler” and Will Smith’s con/crime caper “Focus” from earlier this year. Credit goes to writers and directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck as well as the performances from leads Ben Mendelsohn (“The Dark Knight Rises”) and Ryan Reynolds.
Mendelsohn’s Gerry is a struggling real estate agent with a gambling addiction. He owes a lot of people a lot of money. At a casino in his home state of Iowa Gerry meets-up with Curtis (played by Reynolds) at a poker table. Curtis seems like a guy who’s just passing through town…and who’s passed through more than his share of towns. The two hit it off and eventually decide to travel down the Mississippi to New Orleans to take part in a major poker tournament, which promises a payoff that could change both of their lives.
The two make stops in cities to gamble along the way, including St. Louis, where Curtis reunities with on-again/off-again girlfriend Simone (“American Sniper”‘s Sienna Miller). Boden and Fleck do a nice job, with quick shots of the buildings, restaurants, theaters and casinos in each area, providing a real feel for the roadtrip the men are on. Even at nighttime, the grim and gritty cinematography sets the perfect tone.
A strong theme throughout “Mississippi Grind” is the idea of rainbows bringing Curtis and Gerry good luck. The symbolism is not heavy-handed and works quite well. However, some of the scenes in the second half get a little messy and aren’t as compelling as the set-up, particularly a section when Gerry decides to re-connect with his ex-wife. And the ending doesn’t quite match-up with the feel of the rest of the movie. But Reynolds (who’s having a highlight year with this performance and his work in “Woman in Gold”) and Mendelsohn make us want to stay with “Mississippi Grind” to its somewhat predictable ending. Even after all they go through, there may just be that pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Mississippi Grind” gets a B-.
Running Time: 108 min.