Mississippi Grind (2015) Movie Review
Gambling films are not that easy to make. The general perception is that gambling is full of high drama and tension, but the reality is different. Even high-stakes card games, which might feel like epic battles for the participants, are not exactly a spectator sport, as physical action is limited to watching a bunch of people sitting around a table looking at their cards and pushing around chips.
And the majority of gamblers never reach the kind of high-stakes games we’re talking about. They spend their day chipping away, trying to make their bankrolls last and hopefully leave the game at least a bit up, or even. It rarely boils down to life and death. So while it’s easy to make films that use gambling to advance a bigger plot, think Casino Royale, a film that deals with gambling itself as one of the main themes, is more of a challenge.
Mississippi Grind is one such film. The film follows two compulsive gamblers, Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), as they team up for a meandering road trip through Mississippi, taking in all the casinos and racetracks they can find on the way. The gambling-themed movie will no doubt attract a broad audience if the numbers from online casino operators are a true indicator of the growing interest in this pastime.
Like the great river that it is set on, the film twists and turns in unexpected directions while flowing along at its own unhurried pace. There’s some drama, conflict, comedy, and a lot of gambling, but no real sense of purpose or direction to the story. In this way, the film perfectly reflects the lives of people, such as its main protagonists, who barely look beyond the next game or race.
But there is no judging or moralising. This is what sets Mississippi Grind apart from other films that have attempted to tackle the subject of degenerate gambling. In the classic gambling film The Gambler, literature professor Axel Freed’s (James Caan) life spins out of control due to his addiction, and the audience can’t help but judge his actions.
Not so with Mississippi Grind, where the protagonists lurch from misadventure to misadventure, always managing to scrape by with no big denouement to leave the audience feeling satisfyingly morally superior. In the end, there is no grand tragedy or comedy, just an almost documentary tale of two weak characters enabling each other to avoid responsibility and continue wasting their lives.
This could lead to a very dull film. Still, an intelligent script by writer/director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, which explores the themes of friendship, co-dependence and more, and some fine performances by Mendelsohn and Reynolds make it a cinematic gem, albeit a slow-moving one.
Overall, Mississippi Grind is a thoughtful character study that owes a lot more to 70s films than just the brilliantly done costumes and sets. And it is a refreshing break to see a movie that relies on provoking thought and contemplation rather than special effects to engage its audience.