Movie Review - Mississippi Grind

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden directed the Oscar-nominated Half Nelson, the film that put Ryan Gosling on the map. That 2006 film was basically about an unlikely friendship between two very different people whose worlds instantly collide. This film, also directed by Fleck and Boden, also is about an unlikely friendship that's probably more likely than the one in Half Nelson between two people who are different but have more understanding and commonalities than the two in Half Nelson.

Ben Mendelsohn (The Place Beyond the Pines and Exodus: Gods and Kings) stars as Gerry, a man in the Midwest who is clearly a gambling addict. Mendelsohn is a man who's getting along in his years. He's very svelte, arguably scrawny and scraggly. He could be confused with being a drug addict.

In the one and only scene in which Emmy-winner Alfre Woodard (Hill Street Blues and Desperate Housewives) appears, it's revealed that Gerry is in a lot of debt and is under threat if he doesn't repay the money. He has a life or people that he cares about, but his answer is to run.

Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal and Green Lantern) co-stars as Curtis, a young, handsome guy who Gerry meets in Iowa in a bar playing darts. Gerry goes gambling with Curtis and they have a good night together. Gerry sees Curtis as a lucky charm and he proposes to take Curtis on a road trip to New Orleans, stopping at various casinos along the way. Curtis is game. He hopes to make some money and hook up with various girls.

The film then becomes a literal road trip where Gerry and Curtis stop at various casinos along the way. They stop in St. Louis, Memphis, Little Rock and finally New Orleans. Gerry tries to hide the fact that he keeps losing bets and losing money. He begins to spiral, as Curtis remains blissfully unaware until it comes to a head in the Big Easy.

Their time in the car or hold-up together in hotel rooms helps to build their relationship. They seem to bond. Gerry certainly takes to Curtis in a way that's quasi-romantic. The film makes it clear that the two are heterosexual, but it would have been interesting to see this movie blur that line.

The film touches upon the fact that both men have issues with women in their lives. Gerry has issues with his ex-wife. Curtis has issues with his mother. Unfortunately, the conclusion was weird and unsatisfying. It seems to gloss over that Gerry had a gambling problem. It suggests that he only has a problem when he's losing, which is a truthism. No one ever questions the gambling addict who keeps winning. Yet, maybe we should, but this movie certainly doesn't.

Mendelsohn gives a great performance as he usually does. His nomination at the Spirit Awards as Best Male Lead and the film's recognition by the National Board of Review is also perhaps proof of that. Reynolds is his usual charming and sexy self. There is a fascinating scene on a basketball court with Curtis that I wish was fleshed out more, but generally the movie is fine.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.


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