Otherwise brilliant gambling movie goes all in on the ending and loses…
Directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have form when it comes to making films about addiction. Their full length directorial debut Half Nelson is one of the most painfully accurate portrayals of drug addiction ever made and it helped to make a star out of Ryan Gosling. It is no surprise then that Mississippi Grind is another heartbreakingly realistic depiction of addiction, this time gambling addiction.
Ben Mendelsohn’s Gerry is part Han Solo, part Gil from The Simpsons as he flits between cock sure winner and down on his luck loser. The unfortunate truth with compulsive gambling however is that there is no such thing as ‘down on your luck’. Winners know when to walk away, losers will keep playing until they lose and Mississippi Grind supports that argument… to an extent.
The other half of this gambling buddy movie is Ryan Reynolds, who is alternatively the devil and the angel on Mendelsohn’s shoulder. Reynolds character is mysterious enough to seem somehow otherworldly but still fleshed out enough to be interesting in what is yet another top notch performance from Reynolds.
As well as being a road movie, a buddy movie and a gambling movie, Mississippi Grind is above all else a love letter to the seedy underbelly of the American Dream. The all night diners, casino’s, burger joints and dive bars are all presented through a lens of Allen Ginsberg, Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson and while this is a well trodden path, Boden and Fleck make it visually striking and emotionally rich enough to allow Mississippi Grind to be more than just a pale imitation.
It is a shame then, that the ending chickens out in delivering the overall message. There is no such thing as a successful compulsive gambler. Despite this disappointment, Mississippi Grind is still the best film about gambling since Rounders.