Ben Mendelsohn’s dishevelled countenance is the perfect backdrop for a story about losers who push their luck so far and further still. He embodies that bloke in the late night betting shop who just has got time to stoically give the machine one more note before closing time’s up. Mississippi Grind is a story about losers who push their luck so far they actually deserve to fail. But the film has other ideas, culminating in a tonally jarring conclusion that feels underserved on both a narrative and tonal level.
Ryan Reynolds plays opposite Mendelsohn’s as his suave, unlikely companion, the pair meeting at a grotty poker game and later that night at a bar. Gerry (Mendelsohn) is a perpetually down-on-his luck figure, owing debts everywhere, compulsively gambling and never knowing when to quit. Curtis (Reynolds) is more of an enigma and the pair decide to go on a road trip across the South in the hope of ending Gerry’s losing streak. Writers and Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) accurately depict the hopelessly wandering malaise of these characters who are just trying to survive whilst remaining hopelessly optimistic about their futures, personifying the American dream. Our time spent watching these men is time spent discovering the nature of failure, with a slow melodramatic tone wreaking of their hopeless despondency.
But they’re not hapless, down on their luck losers, they are simply just losers which creates an interesting dynamic for the audience, stretching our empathy for these figures. It ultimately makes the film’s final note stranger, which jars with what has come before, glamorising decisions which don’t justify the reward. It’s a strange misstep for an otherwise consistent character study, with Mendelsohn excelling as this wallowing, unwashed wreck.
Review by David Rank
Mississippi Grind is out now in the UK. Rating 12A (UK). Running time 141 mins.