A sad-sack gambler meets his lucky charm, convincing him to go on a gaming pilgrimage down the Mississip'
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Starring Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds
Initial Review by Sean Riley
Mississippi Grind is a road trip story of degenerate gambler Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) and his good luck charm new friend Curtis (Ryan Reynolds). Mississippi Grind asks a lot out of the 2 leads to carry the film start to finish by putting them on a road trip never spending too long in any stop and they absolutely deliver. The introduction of Gerry and Curtis is an absolute homerun. Gerry listening to Joe Navarro’s 200 Poker Tells (6.99 for Kindle at Amazon, use the link below) before walking into a casino where he is obviously a regular, his messy hair, his posture, his sad face - the viewer knows Gerry is a lifelong loser before he speaks a word. Our first look at Curtis is a cool confident operator. Reynolds shows through Curtis that he is the best in Hollywood at playing disarmingly charming, entering the poker game as an outsider at a table full of regulars and very quickly wins them over with that charm. After the tourney at the bar, Gerry tells the barman he placed 3rd and immediately bet the winnings on a basketball game showing his addiction, then tells Curtis he placed 2nd, showing his character. The two of them get wasted and bond over a rainbow, and gambling. Curtis is Gerry’s lucky charm and Gerry is a buddy for Curtis to hang out with before Machu Picchu time.
A few brief moments of honesty are given as clues along the way that Curtis is more like Gerry that it seems. While Gerry is guessing his age Curtis remarks not to confuse age with experiences. Their time with Simone and Vanessa in St. Louis. Curtis begins to get excited at the idea of Simone joining the trip until she shuts him down suggesting she might need to turn some tricks along the way because she knows exactly how this story will go. While never outright spoken, I imagine Curtis' stories are largely autobiographical, that he was the one who put himself on the casino ban list in Michigan. When we eventually meet Tony Roundtree of the high roller poker game he seems more like he'd be someone Curtis has owed money to than the subject of the tales. Between his obviously cold relationship with his lounge singer mother and his experience of his grandfather chopping a toe Curtis is uncovered to be a man with emotional trauma whose charming extroverted persona and nomadic lifestyle are a defense mechanism for allowing people to actually get close to him. Where Gerry's addiction prevents him from quitting while he's ahead or even cutting his losses Curtis' is his inability to feel like he deserves to win. He enters poker tourneys and quits early instead of playing them out, he claims to not have money just to get beat down after playing basketball.
It didn't seem right that they ended up winning. Gerry put his daughters picture in the visor as a sign that his realization that he bet 1/4 million on a dice roll may have a lasting effect. Curtis was finally going to Machu Picchu. I think the previous 90 minutes or so told the viewer this happy ending was probably not permanent but Gerry broke on a bus back to Iowa to meet his cat who had likely been murdered by his debtors would've been so much more depressing.