There might not be much of a plot, but this whisky-soaked gambling comedy thrills nonetheless
There’s a repeated line in Mississippi Grind that “the journey’s the destination”. This is both true for the characters and the film. If you’ve come for plot, you may find yourself checking your watch on several occasions. If you’re happy to just steep in the lives of complicated, shifting, funny characters then this is a journey well worth taking. It’s sort of a buddy-comedy, though with distinctly depressive elements. It’s the feel-contentedly-dolorous film of the year.
Ben Mendelsohn, one of those actors whose name you may not recognise but whose face you’ll know you’ve seen before (perhaps in The Dark Knight Rises), plays Gerry, an enthusiastic gambler who is always chasing that one big win. Gerry meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a charming young gambler who just does it for fun and can walk away at any time. Over a shared love of whisky and unearned cash they decide to take a road trip to New Orleans where they will surely find their fortune.
They’re an inspired team. Mendelsohn will always downplay a moment, while Reynolds will always energise it, and that contrast makes them fascinating. The plot’s muddiness doesn’t matter, the point is in getting to know two beguiling, broken men and, as their complexities unravel, that isn’t always a pleasant process. It’s further evidence that while Reynolds may have terrible instincts in choosing big-budget films (we’re looking at you, Green Lantern) he has impeccable taste in indies. The whole thing is perfectly cast, including a tiny role for 12 Years A Slave’s Alfre Woodard as a mercurial money-lender and Sienna Miller adding to her comeback roster of little parts in great films as Curtis’ weary girlfriend.
You might not imagine that moments of a man turning over some cards could be particularly nerve-racking, but tension builds unbearably as Gerry’s future eternally rests on the roll of a die or the colour of a card. As the film moves along you’ll be less sure if you want him to win or lose, but he’s so well drawn that you’ll always care.
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller