Mississippi Grind (2015)


(director/writer: Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck;cinematographer: Andrij Parekh; editor: Anna Boden; music: Scott Bomar; cast: Ben Mendelsohn (Gerry), Ryan Reynolds (Curtis), Sienna Miller (Simone), Analeigh Tipton (Vanessa), Alfre Woodard (Sam), Robin Weigert (Dorothy), Marshall Chapman (Cherry); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jamie Patricof, Lynette Howell, Tom Rice, Ben Nearn; A24 2015)

It’s a better bet than most recent gambling films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Brooklyn-based Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson”/”Sugar”/”It’s Kind of A Funny Story”) are co-writers and co-directors of this well-conceived, low-key, moody, bittersweet, buddy gambling film. It’s a better bet than most recent gambling films. In the background there are a number of Delta blues tunes, adding to the funky atmosphere and revealing glimpses of the gamblers.

The middle-aged sad sack Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn, Aussie actor), a gambling addict, is a divorced real-estate agent from Dubuque, Iowa, who has deep financial troubles– his debts due to gambling have mounted and he has not only lost a wife (Robin Weigert) but a daughter because of his addiction. Realizing he needs a change of scenery, and a chance to pay off his bookie (Alfre Woodard), Gerry meets in a local casino an outgoing poker player and teams up with the slick younger ‘people person’ Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a professional gambler, in a poker partnership. The two gamblers, opposites, trek south (stopping in St. Louis, Memphis and Little Rock), with Gerry hoping to at least get even playing in new gambling venues. The guys bond over women, booze, billiards and gambling, and as they begin to relate to each other they loosen up and we learn of their vastly different histories.

The big gambling event for them is at a New Orleans casino, where they play in a high-stakes poker game.

Both co-stars turn in nice performances, where they let us understand there’s something romantic about gambling and also something foolhardy living such a risky life. As the pic glides along at a leisurely pace and is bombarded by a funny droll humor and an easy to handle narrative, all seems fine. But eventually the pic bets more than it should on its theme of how a gambler’s karma is determined mostly by chance. It leaves us with an open-ended conclusion that allows us to judge for ourselves who is a winner. The filmmakers remain non-judgmental.

‘Grind’ has drawn a sparse audience, and can currently be seen on VOD after a limited theater release. Gambling pics usually have tough luck in theaters, and this one is no exception. But I believe those same arthouse viewers who liked Robert Altman’s California Splitwill also appreciate this quality character driven road flick for its gentle knowing cautionary take on gamblers and the gambling scene.