Gambler Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is feeling the pressure of another losing streak when a chance meeting with charismatic poker player Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) seems to bring about a change of fortune. The pair set out on a cross-country journey, from Iowa to Louisiana, determined to win big, but Gerry’s capacity for self-destruction threatens to derail them at every turn.
While it may sound like just another gambling movie, Mississippi Grind is elevated to something rather special thanks to an intelligent, poignant script by writer-director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) and two nuanced central performances. The ever-brilliant Mendelsohn brings multiple layers to Gerry, a man resigned to the hardships of life yet unable to give up on the slim possibility that his luck will change, while Reynolds’ considerable charm and comic-timing balances the film’s downbeat tone.
Interestingly, too, while Gerry and Curtis may be at the centre of this narrative, they are also representative of a wider story. The film’s focus is not just the all-consuming power of individual addiction, but the cancerous economic depression felt in all the Mississippi River towns the pair pass through. As industries falter and jobs disappear, many living in these deprived locales are left with no hope other than blind luck, and are – like Curtis’ escort love interest Simone (a great but underused Sienna Miller) – surviving in any way they possibly can.
The idea that the film’s leads are not alone in fighting for a life that seems destined to elude them is beautifully underscored by Andrij Parekh’s evocative cinematography, which frames the bleakness of decaying towns alongside the tempting neon of sprawling casinos. In this context we come to understand the life-and-death desperation that drives Gerry’s addiction and realise that for him, and so many others, there is simply no option other than to keep rolling that dice.
UK Release Date: October 23, 2015
This review was originally published by The List