“… does a great job at conveying the bleak feeling of gambling addiction.”
Mississippi Grind is a movie about a down on his luck Gambler who finds a man who he is convinced is his good luck charm. The pair then take a road trip down to New Orleans, being sure to stop at every gambling opportunity along the way. The movie stars Ben Mendelsohn as Gerry (our lead), and Ryan Reynolds as Curtis. Now from the little synopsis I gave, the movie may sound like a fun time but don’t let that fool you. Mississippi Grind is one of the more tragic movies I have seen in a while, and despite having moments of levity in some of the dialogue it will make you feel immensely sad by the time the credits roll.
I am by no means an expert on gambling addiction, but I do have the benefit of having researched it a fair bit a couple of years back. Add that to the fact that I have seen gambling addiction up close more than once, and I think that it is safe to say that I am comfortable with discussing the topic. Mississippi Grind, along with Ben Mendelsohn, does a great job at conveying the bleak feeling of gambling addiction. The movie shows us very depressing scenery, mixed with a very melancholy soundtrack which really sets the tone for what the story lays out. On the actor side of things Ben Mendelsohn does a great job of playing a man who is desperate. Desperation is not something that is so easily conveyed, but Mendelsohn seems to do it with ease. He is introduced to Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), and through a few strange happenings begins to think that Curtis is his good luck charm. Of course, there are no such things as good luck charms, but people like Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn’s character) look for any edge they can get. To reflect Gerry’s behaviour, Curtis is a character that is laid back and does’t seem to care what happens. Throughout the movie we get glimpses into Curtis’ past, but ultimately I was left longing for more. Curtis seems to always have a story and yet the people around him who have known him for some time seem to pity him. Curtis seems to be no better than Gerry in terms of skeletons in his closet, but that is largely masked throughout the film. Ryan Reynolds does a great job of playing Curtis and working off of the tragic character of Gerry, while still harbouring some tragedy of his own. One problem I had with the film was the ending (both the actual ending, and the entire last chunk of the film). Towards the end of the film, we have hit a “valley” and think that the characters have hit rock bottom. It is easy to expect something like this from a movie with a subject so grim, but then the movie seems to pick up again. It rises and rises until ultimately ending on what I assume was intended to be a happy note. Not only does this seem out of place and kind of screws with the pacing of the film, but I wasn’t a fan of the actual ending of the film. I’m not going to spoil anything, I’m just going to say that I wish the movie had ended 5 minutes (or around that time) earlier than it did. The reason being that I firmly believe that this film does not end well for either of the characters. Maybe that is just my cynical out look on life, but I am a strong believer that people don’t change that easily. The movie seems to flick a switch to get to the “happy ending”, but had the movie progressed past the credits we would see that the ending is a lot more sad than we are left to believe. That is why I wished the movie would have ended on a little bit of a darker tone, because it is obvious it is going there anyway. Aside from all of that I think that the movie was also executed well on the technical front. The thing that stood out the most to me during the film was the music, and more specifically the use of music. As I mentioned earlier, the soundtrack is very much a sad one, mainly consisting of blues songs. This not only fits with the setting of the movie, but also the tone. But it wasn’t just the fact that the songs used were blues songs, it was the feeling that all of the songs had. They all felt empty, having only one or two instruments and a very quiet tone about them. This complimented the tone and plot of the film, but also what I’m sure the characters were feeling throughput the movie. I also enjoyed the fact that the film would use atmospheric music to its benefit, like when the characters were in a bar we would hear the same type of blues playing but it would sound even more bleak and hollow because it was playing in the room. One thing I thought was overdone in the film was the use of exterior montages of landmarks. Whenever the characters would get to a new location, the film would feature a short montage of “landmarks” (not necessarily famous landmarks, but ones that would encapsulate the feeling of the locations) during either the sunrise or sunset when they appeared abandoned and lonely. I love the thought behind that (again focusing on the loneliness of the characters) but it kind of got played out toward the end of the film. That is just a small flaw in a film I think is otherwise a great journey into the minds of two men.
Mississippi Grind is the kind of movie that pulls you in from the second it starts, not because it is thrilling but because it is fascinating. It is a masterfully executed character study, and I recommend that everyone go and watch it.
I give Mississippi Grind a B