Ryan Reynolds is the more famous star of “Mississippi Grind,” but the film belongs to his co-star, Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, as an older gambling addict who impulsively hitches his wagon to the seemingly charmed Reynolds after the pair meet in Iowa and hit if off over poker and bourbon. Both men are compulsive gamblers, betting on everything from cards to darts to horses and dogs.
Reynold’s character Curtis is a charming drifter passing through town, while Mendelsohn’s is Gerry, a local coming to terms with mounting gambling debts. Desperate to leave town and scrape up some money, and convinced Curtis is his good-luck charm, Gerry accompanies Curtis on his trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans for a high-stakes game.
Along the way, this film production stopped in Mobile and shot some scenes at the Mobile Greyhound Park. Some of you might even be in it as extras, and maybe you saw that, on his tour of morning show interviews promoting this film, Reynolds namechecked Mobile when asked if he had been on any particularly beautiful locations to shoot. He even pronounced it correctly.
This film comes from the writer-director team that created the superb “Half Nelson,” which also cast a handsome actor, Ryan Gosling, in one of his greatest roles. Reynolds’ Curtis is not as memorable of a role, and if he had played against another young actor like himself, “Mississippi Grind” would not have the impact it does. But the relationship between Curtis and Gerry is fascinating and watchable. It is a study in their contrasts and their similarities, and the shift between them. The whole time you wonder who is playing who, and if anyone is who they say they are.
However, despite the ongoing suspense over their fortunes, this is primarily a character study, and the character of Gerry is profoundly yet subtly compelling. Mendelsohn gives him so much depth; we should hate a guy who treats his ex-wife and daughter the way he does, but he is lovable without being ingratiating. I guess he just seems like a real person, and between this and his excellent role in “Slow West,” he is now an actor I will watch in anything.
Local interest aside, “Mississippi Grind” is a throwback to some rambling road trip films of the ‘60s and ‘70s such as “Easy Rider,” where the journey is the point of the story and the facts, slippery as they are, are dealt out slowly. “Mississippi Grind” is a welcome throwback film and worth the trip.