Mississippi Grind – 2016
Written and Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Alfre Woodard, Robin Weigert, James Toback
“How much do you owe?”
This is the rallying cry that brings a burgeoning friendship between Gerry and Curtis to the decision of throwing their lots together and bringing their trains of misery on a trip towards glory.
The fact that they are trapped in a miserable existence doesn’t hinder the process of decision-making. In fact, it informs their decisions. They didn’t end up at the same table by accident. They didn’t get there by providence, either. Though you’d be hard pressed to convince them of that. Each is caught in the circular existence of thinking the next big win is on the horizon. Meanwhile, they try to keep the collection of their losses from being the sunset of their chance.
Until then, there’s always a chance.
There is no one better at playing the hard luck loser than Mendelsohn. His power is in having his power steadily and constantly eroded. His Gerry is in a losing battle with dignity. He’s got losses piling up. He has not seen his child for several years. In fact, he has no idea that his ex-wife remarried. He does know she still keeps a stash of cash in the purple socks in her dresser, though. He has no clue what to do with a winning hand except to bet it all on the next loser.
There are 100 ways to define misery, and Mendelsohn has mastered 99 of them. If one wanted to watch the one film that defined his career, this could be it. He’s done it so well for so long. There’s something to say about having some range in your career. There is something else about finding what you’re good at and becoming a master.
Amazingly, the usually self-assured Reynolds finds the last one in this film. Curtis is a few miles short of where Gerry is on this journey towards misery, but he’s carrying his own fatal flaw. He’s got more going for him than Gerry, but it doesn’t stop him from picking up a few of his friends flaws. It’s kind of like a drug. He says he doesn’t care about winning. To watch him, you’d have to believe he’s telling the truth. He really is in it for the journey, as much as anything.
It’s wonderful watching how much these two feed off each other. What vibes they pick up, the amazing details they remember. They so desire to push their way to the next game, anything they can use to get them there is in play. Boden and Fleck are adept and bringing out the details in pictures that no amount of words could accurately describe.
The last act of the film brings everything where it needs to be. Gambling films often find their moral there. This is where they teach us the lesson that gambling doesn’t pay off. Thankfully, Boden and Fleck take the cliché and turn it on the viewer. Where it ends up and what we learn is for us to develop. They’ve just given us a little more research to inform our own decisions.
(***** out of *****)