You can never lose in poker. Until you lose. And then your life is done with.
Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a bit of a gambler. This has then carried out into the rest of his personal life because he’s not only lost a marriage because of it, but owes a lot of people, a lot of money. Though he intends on paying each and everyone of those debts off, he still can’t seem to take himself away from the poker-table nearly as much as he’d like. One fateful game, however, he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a charming, silver-tongued fellow gambler who has a lot more lady luck on his side than Gerry. In Curtis, Gerry not only sees a gambling-partner that he can bet, gain and lose money with, but a pal that he can go on a road trip with and have all sorts of fun that he hasn’t been able to have in quite some time. However, while on the road to Mississippi for a huge gambling event, they get to know one another better which, in some instances, can prove to be more problematic than either would have liked. But at the end of the day, they’re both two gamblers, just trying to get by in a world that they constantly seem to owe money.
Gambling movies are, for the most part, fun. Which, if you think about it, is kind of screwed-up. For one, gambling is an addiction. And just like many other addictions out there, it takes over a person, strips that person of everything they’ve got and, if they aren’t lucky enough, may ruin said person for the rest of their lives. So yeah, as you can tell, addiction’s not a fun thing to deal with, let alone, a gambling one, so to make gambling movies, actually fun and exciting, seems odd.
However, Mississippi Grind is smart enough to be a little bit of both.
While on one hand, Grind shows gambling and being in the midst of having luck go your way, as an absolute blast and the greatest feeling in the world. The dice are coming up clutch, every hand is in your favor, and the chips seem to constantly be coming your way, no matter how risky or daring your bets may tend to get. That same feeling of electricity and anticipation is in the air during nearly every gambling scene in Grind (which is saying a lot), and it shows people why gambling, in and of itself, can be so addicting to those who want to get a whole bunch of money, in a quick, relatively easy fashion.
On the other hand, however, Grind also shows how all of this constant betting, gambling, winning, and losing, can also be draining – not just emotionally, but financially as well. Like they did with the stellar Half Nelson almost a decade ago, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck show the dark and miserable side effects that come along with any addiction, of any kind. While getting your kicks off by fueling your addiction may have you feeling as if you’re on top of the world and nothing can bring you down, the sad reality is that when everything does crumbling down and you do begin to think clear, sober thoughts, you’ll be constantly chasing after that same high, all over again. But this time, by any means/costs necessary.
And all of this is especially true with Gerry, played exceptionally well by Ben Mendelsohn.
While we get the picture early on in the movie that Gerry is, a bit of a sad sack who owes just about everybody and their mothers, money, we also can see that he’s trying to get better and forget about his addiction that’s slowly, but oh so surely, swallowing him whole. Gerry may go out to the scummiest casinos and clubs out there to play a little game of Texas Hold ‘Em and throw a few bills down, but he knows that he can’t go over any limit, or else it’ll be too late. And while the film definitely shows that that time may have already come, Gerry is still trying to make ends meet with his real-estate job and constant promise of giving those he owes money to, the money he’s already supposed to have been given to them by now.
But because Gerry seems like the sort of poor guy who is in so over-his-head with just about everything, he’s interesting to watch and root for. While we don’t want him to go to these poker-tables and throw all of his money away, at the same time, we also see what kind of over-zealous joy it brings him, so it makes sense that we’d want him to continue on doing what he’s doing. And Mendelsohn, as usual, is great in this rare-lead role of his, but also seems to fit into the role of playing “a good guy” for the first time in quite awhile. While there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll soon follow this role up with about a dozen or so more smarmy, dirty and disgusting villainous ones, it’s still a nice breath of fresh air to see that he’s able to switch things up every once and awhile, and still have people believe in who he’s portraying.
And while Mendelsohn deserves some fine credit here as Gerry, Ryan Reynolds deserves just as much playing the smooth-talking charmer that is Curtis.
Because Curtis always has something witty to say and seems to be the life of every party he shows up to, it only makes perfect sense that someone like Reynolds wouldn’t just get the role, but play it to perfection. But what’s so interesting about Curtis is that while he may seem like a good guy because of how fun-loving and easy-going he is, there’s also a hint of menace underneath it all that makes it seem like he’s definitely full of bullshit and is also trying to screw Gerry over if that means getting to more money for himself. These are two sides to Reynolds’ persona that we so hardly see, but here, as Curtis, the man does wonders with.
Together, Mendelsohn and Reynolds strike-up a wonderful chemistry that not only sees them having hearty laughs over the good times, but coming close to punches when the hard ones come around, too. You never know whose playing who, or if there’s even a play to begin with; we just know that someone is going to get more lucky at the poker-table than the other, and it’s going to completely set the other one off. And like I said before, Boden and Fleck do solid jobs at presenting these two characters as opposites, in terms of their personalities and whatnot, the movie still highlights the fact that their shared-interest (i.e. gambling), may also be the one that sets them apart forever and ruin both of their lives.
Now, who wants to go out and hit the slots?
Consensus: Both engaging, as well as entertaining, Mississippi Grind does justice to both the world of gambling and also the talents of its cast, creating a movie that’s definitely worth the watch.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire