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Mississippi Grind

Mississippi Grind

Released 23 October 2015
Director(s) Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Robin Weigert, Alfre Woodard, Jayson Warner Smith
Writer(s) Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Ben Nearn, Jamie Patricof, Tom Rice, Lynette Howell
Origin United States
Running Time 108 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 15A

Low stakes.

I have never had any desire to learn how to play poker. Losing money on the turn of a card isn’t really my idea of a good time and any game that requires more than thirty seconds to explain the rules seems like entirely too much effort. All of this contributes to my irritation with films about poker; the protagonists tend to be self-absorbed idiots and the dramatic sequences where various hands are turned over just leave me confused. You shouldn’t need to know the rules of five-card stud to enjoy a movie.

Which brings us to Mississippi Grind, a poker film masquerading as an existential road movie. The film stars Ben Mendelsohn (looking uncannily like Ian Beale with his shaggy hair and crumpled polo shirts) as down on his luck gambler Gerry. While playing in his local casino one evening, a charismatic stranger joins the game and Gerry is immediately drawn to him. The stranger is Curtis, played by Ryan Reynolds, a guy who gets through life on his wits and enjoys gambling for the company rather than for the monetary rewards. Gerry and Curtis decide to team up and the pair head out on the road towards a high stakes game in New Orleans, hitting every casino on the way there.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the writing team behind Half Nelson, write and direct in a way that echoes the random nature of a spin of the roulette wheel. Towns flash by in a haze of neon as Gerry gambles and Curtis parties. This routine is punctuated by odd little scenes that fail to go anywhere - little five minute detours that feel pointless rather than enlightening. Sienna Miller as Curtis’ on/off lover is a casualty of this writing - it’s another thankless role for the actress. The overall effect is rather frustrating and the conclusion is no exception; we are supposed to feel that a catharsis has been reached by both men at the end of the film but for me, it felt that neither men had really changed and if we could see past the credits, they would continue to be the selfish philanderers they always were.

Mississippi Grind is an unsatisfying journey that is admittedly enlivened by enthusiastic performances from the leads. However, I never felt as if the film was really trying to get under the skin of an inveterate gambler but was just content to meander around witnessing their highs and lows.

- Linda O’Brien