Review: Mississippi Grind Has Compelling Performances But A Confusing Message
Title: Mississippi Grind
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Screenwriter: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Principal Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Anthony Howard, Sienna Miller, and Analeigh Tipton
Summary: Down on his luck and facing financial hardship, Gerry teams up with younger charismatic poker player, Curtis, in an attempt to change his luck. The two set off on a road trip through the South with visions of winning back what’s been lost.
I feel like I got to see most of the movies I wanted to see at Sundance this year. There are always going to be a few you’re unable to see, though, because it’s impossible to see everything when there are that many movies screening at once. Mississippi Grind was one of the movies that I wanted to see but wasn’t able to. If I’m remembering correctly I hit the e-waitlist as soon as it opened and got the last place in line. It was a late screening in a very small theater so I decided that it wasn’t really worth me standing outside when the odds were certainly not in my favor. Despite the horrible screening time for my day job I didn’t hesitate to see it despite how much it botched my sleep schedule.
Mississippi Grind features two great lead performances, but seems to meander around with its story while trying to say something that I couldn’t discern.
I understand that there are people that like watching movies with terrible people being terrible. There is a reason that shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are as ubiquitous in the popular culture; they are shows about anti-heroes. However, there needs to be some sort of other aspect to draw everyone in. Whether you want to see them finally get caught or watch them redeem themselves, there needs to be a compelling reason to continue to watch these terrible people. Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) are pretty terrible people but neither of them really seem to evolve much beyond that. Gerry is a compulsive gambler and liar who can’t seem to catch a break. I think that was supposed to make us feel sorry for him, but when we find out he was up $800 and lost it because he couldn’t stop himself I lost sympathy. This might be a personal thing because I don’t understand gambling at all, but there wasn’t a moment between these two people conning and gambling their way down the coast that I felt anything for them or saw any reason to continue watching them.
I felt like directors and writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were trying to tell me something, but I saw this movie over twelve hours ago and I still cannot figure out what the message was. You would think it would be that compulsive gambling is bad or something along those lines but the movie never really follows through on that. I thought maybe we were working our way toward a tragic ending but instead everything got wrapped up so neatly that I thought I was watching a different movie. There were moments where I felt like the movie was trying to make me feel bad for these two men but everything felt incredibly flat to me. They might be a sad sack (Gerry) or incredibly charming (Curtis), but I didn’t want them to succeed because I wasn’t invested in them.
That’s not to say there aren’t some great performances here. This is really a two man show with Mendelsohn and Reynolds playing off of each other really well. While I didn’t feel sympathy for them they were interesting characters to watch interact. Reynold’s is incredibly charming as Curtis who might be a bigger liar than Gerry is by the end of the movie. Mendelsohn brings real humanity to Gerry but he never seems to really learn a lesson by the end of the movie. I don’t fault that on the performance but rather on the script. I’m sure Mendelsohn could have produced an absolutely amazing scene that changed the entire dynamic of the character. Instead, the script doesn’t seem focused on anything enough to really take these already great performances to the next level.
Mississippi Grind is a movie that, I have a feeling, I’m going to come down on a lot harder than most people. Perhaps someone who enjoys or even understands the concept of gambling better than me will get something more out of this movie. As someone who walks away as soon as she’s ahead I didn’t understand a lot of the motivation here, and the movie didn’t seem too keen on helping me understand either. This is certainly not a bad movie but it could have been so much better with a few improvements to the script.