Mississippi Grind full movie review - Compulsive gamblers get free pass in whimsical, unlikely tale of sudden good luck
I liked Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's 2008 film Sugar, about an aspiring Dominican baseball player trying to break into the big leagues.
The writing-directing team is known for thoroughly researching their subjects and this time they have turned their attention to the subject of gambling. After viewing Mississippi Grind, I'm thinking that perhaps Boden and Fleck should direct someone else's screenplay next time around.
"Grind" is not short in the acting department. The protagonists here are Gerry, a hopeless gambling addict played by the talented Australian actor, Ben Mendelsohn, who replicates a passable Iowan accent and Curtis, a "professional" gambler, played by the engaging Ryan Reynolds (seen recently in Woman in Gold).
The plot proceeds lugubriously as Gerry and Curtis meet one another in a Dubuque casino and soon become fast friends. Things get a bit interesting when a criminal inside a pool hall comes to believe Gerry is loaded with cash after the inveterate gambler can't convince a group of bar patrons to accept his $1,000 bet on a pool game. Outside in the parking lot, the man stabs Gerry after discovering that he's indeed broke. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), the wound isn't serious enough from keeping Gerry away from his next "pit stop."
We also learn that Gerry owes many people money including Sam (Alfre Woodard) who reluctantly warns him that she'll have to have one of her friends come after him if he doesn't make good on his debts. Curtis however proposes a trip to New Orleans where there is a poker tournament with a $25,000 buy-in. Curtis agrees to lend Gerry $2,000 for gambling purposes if he does the bulk of the driving.
The two travel to St. Louis where they fraternize with two prostitutes. We learn that Curtis has had a prior relationship with one of them (Sienna Miller), but the sub-plot doesn't really go anywhere. Gerry ends up betting $20,000 on the river card in a poker game and loses it all but tells Curtis that he won. The two friends then go to Little Rock where Gerry pays a visit to his ex-wife and is caught by her rifling through her drawer, attempting to steal a wad of cash. She promptly throws him out of her house.
When attempting to check in at a hotel in Mississippi, Curtis' comp card is rejected and Gerry reveals he lost all his money playing poker. Curtis provokes a group of tough guys in the hotel bathroom and after he leaves, they beat Gerry up.
At this juncture one is left with more questions than answers. How does Curtis really make a living? Does he simply keep getting lucky like when he bets on Mississippi Grind at the horse track and walks away with a cool $5,000? And why does he place himself in harm's way at the basketball pick-up game, intentionally welshing on a bet so that he ends up getting beaten up?
Worse is the climax where Curtis runs into Gerry at a casino and Gerry makes a single $285,000 bet in a craps game?and wins! Does the degenerate gambler who earlier attempted to rip off his ex-wife by stealing money from her home?has he redeemed himself by giving up gambling and now acting responsibly? The idea perhaps is that because Gerry leaves half the money in the safe for Curtis, and doesn't steal it, the films' scenarists are perhaps implying that Gerry is soon going to go on the straight and narrow. But given his entire history of addictive gambling, is it really likely that he's going to pull himself together? The bottom line is that Gerry really hasn't redeemed himself at film's end and what he did to his ex-wife leaves such a bad taste in one's mouth, that it's difficult to root for him at all.
Ultimately Mississippi Grind should be a cautionary tale about gambling? the Gerry's of this world more often than not end up on the losing side of life. Through a sleight of hand, somehow Gerry and Curtis get a free pass from Boden and Fleck, who are more enamored with the fleeting charms of their characters than the reality of their compulsive game of self-destruction.