“Do you know how to get a sweet, little, old lady to yell go fuck yourself?”
In recent years, Ben Mendelsohn has become one of the most consistently great actors in movies. It’s not only his performances that make him so reliable, it’s also his ability to choose great material. Watching a Ben Mendelsohn movie means I’ll get to see him be amazing, it also means I’ll be seeing a really cool, interesting story. So when you have the Mendelsohn factor, and add it to a gritty, 70s look, I knew I had to see Mississippi Grind.
Down on his luck gambler Gerry (Mendelsohn) loses with what is obviously just the latest in a long run of bad hands. But also at the table is Curtis (Ryan Reynolds). The two hit it off and have a big night of drinking before heading to the dog track the next day. Curtis has a big win and is ready to walk away, but Gerry convinces him to stay and they lose it all. With his bookie about break his thumbs for an outstanding debt, Gerry needs cash, or to get out of town quick. Curtis supplies both.
With $2,000, the two hit the road, following the Mississippi River and gambling along the way. The plan is to turn their two grand into 25 so Gerry can enter a high stakes poker game at the end of their road trip in New Orleans. The trip reveals Gerry to be the lowest form of desperate, degenerate gambler, while Curtis proves to have his own issues. Why is he so interested in helping and enabling this random guy he met over poker table?
Mississippi Grind is a dirty, sweaty, grimey movie, and it’s all the better for it. Gerry and Curtis live their lives in dive bars, around small time poker tables and in the worst flophouse hotels. It’s a movie that gives an almost vicarious thrill. They’re lives are terrible, but there’s also a kind of freedom to them that most of us are way too responsible to ever even contemplate.
And, as expected, Mendelsohn is fantastic. The desperation he gives is Gerry agonisingly real. It’s torture every time he places another bet, tells another lie or makes another rash decision. But it’s also kind of infectious when he finds himself on a hot streak. You can totally see how easy it would be for a guy like this to forget the many low points on those infrequent occasions when he hits a fleeting high.