sat 31/10/2020

Mississippi Grind | reviews, news & interviews

Mississippi Grind

Mississippi Grind

Mendelsohn and Reynolds take to the road to quietly rewarding results

Hooked: Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds in `Mississippi Grind'

As further proof that films in a lower-key can often land with the greatest impact, along comes Mississippi Grind, a casually mournful, beautifully made road movie that is perhaps best described as the picture that Robert Altman didn't live to make. A conscious throwback to the era of Altman's California Split, this latest from the writer-director team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden locates an almost Chekhovian melancholy in its portrait of two gambling men, drifters both, in search of an actual and metaphoric pay-off from life. 

As unforced in its telling as the neatly arrived-at rapport between leading men Ryan Reynolds and the wonderful Ben Mendelsohn, the movie is likely to be swamped by bigger, noisier titles from every side, but its quiet virtues seem guaranteed to endure. 

To be sure, the picaresque quality to the script may frustrate those who want more overt juice from a journey whose origins in an earlier celluloid age are directly referenced by the appearance of veteran director James Toback in a vivid cameo – Toback having written the 1974 Karel Reisz/James Caan film The Gambler that was recently remade (to poor reviews) with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. As was evident in the filmmakers' previous collaboration, Half Nelson, which brought Ryan Gosling a 2007 Oscar nod, Boden and Fleck prefer gently inflected observation to manufactured Big Moments, and the results are all the better for it. 

Gerry (Mendelsohn, sporting not a trace of his native Australian accent) and Curtis (Reynolds) enter one another's lives at a poker table in Dubuque, the American economy being debated on TV in the background while the two men attempt to boost their own personal fortunes. Before long, their easeful banter finds them taking off together for a drive south to New Orleans, their need to re-connect representing the highest stakes of all. The pair's route lead them towards various women who have figured in their lives, among whom Robin Weigert stands out as the inevitably cautious mother of a daughter whom ex-husband Gerry says is seven – or maybe six: significantly, her father isn't quite sure which it is. Nor are facts, one senses, as important as the feeling the men come to share that they might in fact be talismanic for one another, Gerry admiring Curtis's unexpected emergence in his life as "a big handsome leprechaun", which isn't a bad way of characterising this underrated actor's allure. 

Is their car ride an emblem of freedom or escape – are they merely absolving themselves of social obligations by flooring the accelerator and leaving the responsibilities that come with adulthood behind? Mississippi Grind to its credit doesn't cast judgement. Instead, it allows the actors to draw their own complete, composite portraits of a pair for whom the necessary posturing that comes with gambling only goes so far. "I'm not a good person," Gerry tells Curtis, Mendelsohn turning suddenly sad-eyed as if to suggest a cumulative regret he will never be able to voice. The film may take its title from a horse at the racetrack that may or may not be a good bet, but when it comes to gradually laying bare a character's inner life, Mendelsohn really does rank among the best.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Mississippi Grind 

As further proof that films in a lower-key can often land with the greatest impact, along comes Mississippi Grind, a casually mournful, beautifully made road movie that is perhaps best described as the picture that Robert Altman didn't live to make. A conscious throwback to the era of Altman's California Split, this latest from the writer-director team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden locates an almost Chekhovian melancholy in its portrait of two gambling men, drifters both, in search of an actual and metaphoric pay-off from life. 

As unforced in its telling as the neatly arrived-at rapport between leading men Ryan Reynolds and the wonderful Ben Mendelsohn, the movie is likely to be swamped by bigger, noisier titles from every side, but its quiet virtues seem guaranteed to endure. 

To be sure, the picaresque quality to the script may frustrate those who want more overt juice from a journey whose origins in an earlier celluloid age are directly referenced by the appearance of veteran director James Toback in a vivid cameo – Toback having written the 1974 Karel Reisz/James Caan film The Gambler that was recently remade (to poor reviews) with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. As was evident in the filmmakers' previous collaboration, Half Nelson, which brought Ryan Gosling a 2007 Oscar nod, Boden and Fleck prefer gently inflected observation to manufactured Big Moments, and the results are all the better for it. 

Gerry (Mendelsohn, sporting not a trace of his native Australian accent) and Curtis (Reynolds) enter one another's lives at a poker table in Dubuque, the American economy being debated on TV in the background while the two men attempt to boost their own personal fortunes. Before long, their easeful banter finds them taking off together for a drive south to New Orleans, their need to re-connect representing the highest stakes of all. The pair's route lead them towards various women who have figured in their lives, among whom Robin Weigert stands out as the inevitably cautious mother of a daughter whom ex-husband Gerry says is seven – or maybe six: significantly, her father isn't quite sure which it is. Nor are facts, one senses, as important as the feeling the men come to share that they might in fact be talismanic for one another, Gerry admiring Curtis's unexpected emergence in his life as "a big handsome leprechaun", which isn't a bad way of characterising this underrated actor's allure. 

Is their car ride an emblem of freedom or escape – are they merely absolving themselves of social obligations by flooring the accelerator and leaving the responsibilities that come with adulthood behind? Mississippi Grind to its credit doesn't cast judgement. Instead, it allows the actors to draw their own complete, composite portraits of a pair for whom the necessary posturing that comes with gambling only goes so far. "I'm not a good person," Gerry tells Curtis, Mendelsohn turning suddenly sad-eyed as if to suggest a cumulative regret he will never be able to voice. The film may take its title from a horse at the racetrack that may or may not be a good bet, but when it comes to gradually laying bare a character's inner life, Mendelsohn really does rank among the best.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Mississippi Grind 

The film to its credit doesn't pass judgement, instead allowing the actors to draw their own complete, composite portraits

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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