Words by Matt Poe
Mississippi Grind (2015)
Poe’s Star Rating: 5 out of 5 (liked it, loved it, want more of it)
A gambling addict short on cash and in debt meets a fellow gambler who’s headed to New
Orleans for a major poker tournament. The two decide to make the road trip and test their
luck along the way.
Category: Drama, Independent, Comedy
Rated R for language
Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds and Sienna Miller
Written and Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Me oh my, welcome back to another rousing edition of Poe’s Picks. It’s been a while since we’ve last talked, dear reader, and I for one have sorely missed it. I’ve been busy (get over yourself) in other areas of life and have had little time to devote to being your blog dealer. You haven’t forgotten about me, have you?
A lot has happened in the world since we last talked *checks the news, closes laptop, walks away. * Um, let’s just not get into any of that. The point is that this semester is rapidly coming to a close so I’m going to make sure I can get as many of these in the blog for you to enjoy as we make the transition from winter to spring. And speaking of, I think I’ve got the perfect movie for this time of year.
As I’ve already alluded to, time is of the essence so let us not delay any longer. I’m stretched and have my headband on so I’m ready to go. Let’s get after it.
Mississippi Grind tells the story of Gerry (Mendelsohn), a down on his luck gambler who resides somewhere in Iowa. Do they ever make movies about gamblers who aren’t down on their luck? The answer is no.
Anyway, Gerry heads to one of his usual poker spots for a little Texas Hold ‘Em and it’s there he meets Curtis (Reynolds) a charismatic gambler who gets in on the action at the same table Gerry does. An interesting dialogue occurs and Curtis leaves to head elsewhere. Later that night, Gerry stumbles upon him in a local bar where the two become acquaintances.
From the get- go, Gerry realizes there’s something different about Curtis and you can tell a budding bromance is forming over the love of gambling and Woodford Reserve bourbon (it’s good shit, believe me). The next day Gerry pays a visit to his bookie Sam (Alfre Woodward) who lets him know he’s got one day to pay up his debts or he’s going to get a painful visit from her people.
As if fate would have it, Gerry stumbles upon Curtis again at the bar and he makes such a connection. “When you’re around, good things happen and when you’re not, bad things do,” Gerry tells him. It’s then Curtis tells him he’s just stopping by Iowa and that he’s actually headed down for a $25,000 buy in for a major poker tournament.
Gerry realizing this may be his chance to make back the money he owes (gamblers: can’t reason with them) decides the two will drive down to New Orleans and hit all the action along the way to make the buy in.
“We’ll do it like Huck fuckin’ Finn down the Mississippi,” Gerry says.
From there, we have our story and damn, is it a good one. It’s one of those movies that takes the shape of a classic road trip and becomes anything but. I wish this film, which was made on a meager budget, had gotten more publicity when it came out because it’s really good, for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the dialogue is exceptional. You can’t have a good road trip movie and be able to sustain the audience’s attention without having some stellar dialogue. Thankfully, both actors deliver the goods.
Mendelsohn, who is still relatively low-key to American moviegoers, has become one of my favorite actors of the last several years. His role in the Netflix original series Bloodline (awesome show) won him an Emmy and I also really enjoyed him as bad guy Orson Krennic in the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One.
His Gerry is a sad sap who you can’t help but root for, even though you know he’s brought a lot of his own misery upon himself. Mendelsohn does a great turn here providing both dramatic moments and comedic ones. His ‘dog left out alone in the rain’ facial expressions are enough to make you pull for him.
Meanwhile, you wouldn’t expect a star like Reynolds to show up in a small film like this. Thankfully he doesn’t just show up: he delivers. Reynolds is one of those actors who I never liked nor disliked; he was just kind of always there. That obviously all changed with the major success of last year’s Deadpool and after seeing Mississippi Grind, my opinion of his acting changed favorably.
His Curtis, although he exudes a different persona, is also a sad sap trying to right some of his own wrongs. His motives are also sometimes questionable and we don’t truly ever learn them but that’s a credit to the writing and Reynold’s deliverance of the character, which has a certain mystique to it.
I loved this movie. Its pace, its story and its characters all had me thoroughly invested. I wish more big time actors like Mendelsohn and Reynolds would take chances to make films like this. They’re the type of movies that don’t pay a ton (in Hollywood terms) and usually fly under the radar upon release. But when done right, they develop a word of mouth positivity and turn into the kind of film you find and say ‘hot damn, that was good.’
And while Mississippi Grind is about a down on their luck duo, there’s a playfulness and positivity here that makes the film so enjoyable and makes you want to revisit it. It’s also a reminder that sometimes in life, you’ve got to just say to hell with conventional rules and do what your gut tells you to, even if it’s betrayed you before.
As Gerry and Curtis find out, sometimes you have to double down and buy in one last time for another hand or another roll of the dice in the hopes of hitting it big.
Spoken like a true gambler, I know.
The point is that nobody ever hit it big, in poker or in life, by standing around the tables.
Remember that. Talk to you soon, friends.
In Good Movies We Trust,
Matt ‘Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am’ Poe