Ryan Reynolds has put his snark to good use as Deadpool; it’s a little frustrating that he’s using the same mannerisms for everything from Detective Pikachu to Fast and Furious, because he can play straight just as well. Similarly, Ben Mendelsohn is a terrific actor who has been typecast as a baddie in Ready Player One, Rogue One and Robin Hood; both of them need to be a bit more creatively cast. Fortunately, this film allows them to be something more than most blockbusters suggest, and it’s a great showcase for two good actors.
Writers and director Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck provide proof of concept that both men have the chops to do great work with Mississippi Grind, a downbeat but hugely impressive character study of who men under the narcotic grip of gambling. Gerry (Mendelsohn) is a poker player who imagines that hanging out with the younger, better-looking Curtis (Reynolds) might change his luck; he’s right in a way, but not the way he imagines.
Both men are weak; a key dialogue scene hinges on their willingness to place a bet on something as random as the appearance of the next person to walk into a room.There’s spurts of ingeniousness, but also dpression and self-sabotage; there’s more to gambling than winning and losing, and Boden and Fleck do a great job at showing how betting is just part of the problem for those who seek fortune via strokes of luck.
A 70’s classic, Robert Altman’s California Split, was an obvious inspiration here, but Mississippi Grind has an energy and a loucheness all of its own if you’ve only seen these actors paying the rent in blockbusters, it’s something of a revelation to see what they can do in a small-scale drama like this.