MISSISSIPPI GRIND (USA/15A/108mins) Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Starring Ben Mendlesohn, Ryan Reynolds, Yvonne Landry, Anthony Howard, Jayson Warner Smith, James Toback. THE PLOT: Down amongst the makers and griftrs, Gerry (Mendlesohn) is struggling to keep his head above water on the poker table. The guy is plainly in it for the long game, but he’s paying a price, with at least one failed marriage and a great big hunk of burgeoning debts to prove it. He owes “a lot” to “everyone”.
When the casually brazen and seemingly blessed Curtis (Reynolds) happens into his life, Gerry reckons his four aces may have finally come in. With his good luck charmer putting up the money, and Gerry putting his years of poker grindstone on the line, the two head off on a road trip to bring in the millions. Only, you know, you don’t always get dealt the hand you’d hoped for… THE VERDICT: Movies about card sharks who just can’t get a proper bite in life are ten-a-penny-ante, but filmmakers are still finding something highly seductive about this life of near-crime. Even really smart filmmakers like Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously went down the rabbit hole of everyday drug addiction in 2006’s ‘Half Nelson’ and taking the long ball at glory in the minor-leagues in 2008’s ‘Sugar’.
Here, the filmmaking duo are helped enormously in their task of shining a light into the dark, dank shadows of do-or-die poker by the great Ben Mendlesohn, one of the finest character actors working today. Box-office refugee Reynolds is well-cast too, in a role that would have fitted Ryan Gosling even better if he hadn’t pretty much played this character already in the criminally underrated ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ (2011). As the duo slip from Newman and Redford to Cruise and Hoffman, the drama darkens and deepens.
Casting legendary director James Toback as a legendary player is a nice touch (this is the man who gave us 1974’s ‘The Gambler’, after all), but, ultimately, it makes you realise that Boden and Fleck never quite reach the depths of those 1970s American dramas that they’re apeing here. RATING: 3/5 Review by Paul Byrne