What a year actor Ben Mendelsohn is having. The Australian actor with 70 credits on his imdb resume was hardly a known name in North America even though he had parts in such recognizable films such as The Dark Knight Rises, Exodus: Gods and Kings and Killing Them Softly. But in 2015, Mendelsohn’s star rose to award nomination heights with his role as Danny Rayburn on Netflix’s Bloodline. As the troubled brother of a southern family, Mendelsohn was brilliant and now has an Emmy nomination for the role.
In Mississippi Grind, Mendelsohn plays Gerry, a gambler who is unquestionably down on his luck. Facing personal and financial ruin, Gerry meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) a young poker player who also craves the adrenaline of a quick financial gain. Curtis is confident to a fault. And the two card players, dice rollers, chip throwers bond together and find advantage in a relationship that will take them from Iowa to New Orleans in search of the big win.
Their journey turns Mississippi Grind into a road movie. Curtis claims “The journey’s the destination” but with the fallen luck of the two leads both the journey and the destination could have devastating results for the duo who don’t know when to stop when they’re behind.
Directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, Mississippi Grind seems to have taken pieces of Altman’s California Split and Karel Reisz’s The Gambler and polishes the settings, characters and tension in an effort to bring a stylish film about addiction to the masses.
Both leads are perfectly cast. Mendelsohn is at times mesmerizing and Reynolds shows us that he has acute acting chops if given some meat on the script pages on which to chew. Together they make a formidable pair of losers. Two men who would appear to be fun to be around but are reckless and therefore dangerous to be associated.
And therein lies the beauty and intricacy of Mississippi Grind. The characters are so well written and so interesting to the core that we get angered when they refrain from pulling out of a losers game yet we immediately forgive them and cheer for them to right the wrongs of their previous roll or flip.
Shot on film, Mississippi Grind almost has that 1970’s film feel. It’s methodical in its pace and is not afraid to rely on the charm of its leads to propel the quiet story. And it’s so engrossed with the culture of gambling and addiction that the ending – whether Curtis and Gerry win or lose – is irrelevant. After all the journey’s the destination.