Before making the world go inexplicably batshit crazy over Marvel’s Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds snuck his best performance yet right past us in a little independent film called Mississippi Grind. Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a pair who also worked together on Half Nelson and It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, the film was first shot in 2014, screened at the beginning of 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival, and is finally out now on DVD. Is there any reason this film was released so quietly? Well, it certainly isn’t because the film is bad – Mississippi Grind is easily one of the year’s best.
Mississippi Grind follows Gerry (the great Ben Mendelsohn), a perpetual gambler in debt with the wrong people. One night, he finds himself at the same poker table as the young travelling gambler Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) and the two become friends. Gerry proposes that the pair take a trip down the Mississippi River, gambling in several major cities and ending up at a high-stakes came in New Orleans that could settle his debts. Curtis agrees, and the pair embark on their trip. But is Curtis a con-man, out to get Gerry’s money for himself? Or is Gerry’s worst enemy in fact himself, and the gambling addiction inside him?
Reynolds delivers an incredible performance as the happy-go-lucky and laid back Curtis. But even with those traits, Reynolds brings some subtle nuances to his performance that suggest something underneath his cool exterior. There are some very poignant scenes in the film that hammer this home, which is only aided by an incredible performance from Ben Mendelsohn (a performance which Reynolds was convinced was going to be Oscar-nominated). Portraying a character that has effectively been played countless times before – the compulsive gambler – Mendelsohn brings his own cards to the table and makes the role his own. Mendelsohn seems to finally be getting the big roles he deserves, with parts in the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One.
Mississippi Grind is a film that harks back to the gambling films of old, such as James Toback’s The Gambler – hell, Toback even cameos here! But it’s more than just a gambling film. The film oozes style and sophistication in the casino sequences, but is also full of wit and laughs on the road. I went into the film largely blind, as I feel you should all films – although the poster gave me the impression this was going to be another generic gambling drama. It is, but it is also a buddy/road movie and a comedy, so much so it’s quite hard to pin down the film to one genre.
There’s nothing too complicated in the plot and no major twists or turns, rather Mississippi Grind’s charmingly simple story and gentle pacing is one of the film’s best attributes. My sister suggested the narrative delivery was a case of, quite simply, ‘this happens then this happens then this happens’, which is quite right. There’s no non-linear nonsense, flashbacks or dream sequences. The film’s straight-forward delivery and realism made it all the more engrossing.
Ultimately, it’s hard to see why Mississippi Grind got such a quiet release – especially with Reynolds on fire at the moment. While the majority of people might think he’s at his best in a red latex suit making dick jokes, you can’t really argue with the quality of his work in indie’s like this one. He’s incredible here, and with an equally brilliant performance from Mendelsohn, Mississippi Grind is one of the finest acted buddy movies of recent memory. But it’s more than just that - it’s tense, it’s funny, it’s poignant and it’s just damn entertaining.
Mississippi Grind is another hidden gem that deserves a bigger audience. Roll the dice with this one, and I guarantee you’ll win big. 4/5.
Mississippi Grind at CeX
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