Film review: MISSISSIPPI GRIND from ‘Built For Speed’

Gambling addiction drama Mississippi Grind indulges nearly all the clichés of the ‘nihilistic loser seeking redemption’ movie right down to the relationship with a hooker with a heart of gold but impressive turns from leads Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn animate a slightly creaky story.

Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn play two pathological gambling addicts, Curtis and Gerry, who try to fool themselves and each other that they’re getting their lives together even though their clearly destroying them. After recognising each other as kindred spirits during a poker game they decide to gamble their way down to New Orleans in an attempt to win back the money they owe to the family members and shady characters who have been left in the wake of their gambling mania.

Writer/ directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck both of whom also co-wrote the gritty Ryan Gosling film Half Nelson, provide an interesting commentary on America here. They celebrate the country’s mythology of bourbon, blues, seedy bars and gambling joints (admittedly in a way that feels a little too familiar) while critiquing the American obsession with wealth and upward mobility. The world of gambling they depict and its pursuit of quick dollars, is intoxicating, energising but also destructive.

This film would have been a run of the mill drama if it wasn’t for the performances of the two leads. Few people can play a dishevelled loser as well as Ben Mendelsohn. Wearing 80’a leftover clothes, stealing from his ex-wife and constantly getting beaten up by rednecks, he’s a classic stumble bum. Mendelsohn’s weathered face and emotional performance brings an authenticity to the role that helps it transcend the cliché of the loser gambling addict. Reynolds draws on all his cheeky, hyperactive charm to make Curtis a memorable if occasionally annoying character. Sienna Miller also offers fine support in one of the fleeting female roles playing Curtis love interest. In a story thread that desperately needed further exploration, Alfre Woodard appears in an effective but disappointingly brief role as one of Gerry’s creditors.

For much of this film it feels as if we’re watching a re-tread of countless loser-makes-good movies but Mendelsohn’s rugged performance gives it a sinewy quality that makes it compelling viewing.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Release date: 10th December 2015.

Running time: 106 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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