Published Sep 10, 2015Mississippi Grind is a gambler's bromance, set into motion when its protagonists share a moment at a Texas Hold'em table in the film's first scene. Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is down, out and long in the face after years of drawing bad cards, whereas Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) is a picture of suave class with lady luck on his side. Curtis is as charming as Gerry is desperate, making the pair just mismatched enough to strike up an instant partnership.
When the inexplicably kindred spirits christen their spark over bottomless glasses of top shelf bourbon, it seems to follow that the only logical thing to do is to take their buddy chemistry on the road on a cross-country trip to New Orleans. Once there, the two plan to buy into a high-stakes poker game. But where this type of climax is typical of gambling road movies we've seen before, what supposedly sets Mississippi Grind apart from say, Rain Man, is an emphasis on the journey rather than the destination.
Curtis and Gerry's relationship is inherently imbalanced, with Curtis financing the operation. What Gerry has done to deserve such a guardian angel is, for the most part, mysterious, and ultimately pretty unsatisfying in its vague, pseudo-poetic explanation. It's a weak destination that might have had a shot at being forgivable if only the journey itself was as entertaining as the filmmakers seemingly believe it to be.
With films like Half Nelson, Sugar and It's Kind Of A Funny Story behind them, writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have proven themselves talented at offering well-rounded character pieces in the spirit of the '70s American New Wave. The problem this time around is that these aren't especially interesting characters, and what they lack in intrigue, they sadly also lack in charisma and general watchability.
There's nothing wrong with the performances of Reynolds and Mendelsohn — though you can't say they particularly transcend their archetypes either — nor is there anything so bad about Sienna Miller's portrayal of the unnecessary prostitute with a heart of gold. The cinematography, too, is pleasant enough, though it would've been nice if the screenplay allowed for more opportunities to milk the scenery of the supposedly holy journey beyond the odd random shot of Stax Records.
Perhaps the film would've succeeded had it actually evoked Jim Jarmusch or Wim Wenders. Paradoxically, it would also have been nice if Mississippi Grind, despite its attempts at texture, felt original. In the end, all you're left with is a competent enough film that is almost offensively unremarkable.