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Mississippi Grind: High stakes gamble comes up trumps

Low-budget flick won't be Ryan Reynolds' big moment, but it's up there with the best of betting movies, writes Andrew Johnston

Published 30/10/2015

Roll ‘em: Curtis and Gerry are lured by a big opportunity in New Orleans
Roll ‘em: Curtis and Gerry are lured by a big opportunity in New Orleans
Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds must be the leading man who has made the greatest amount of quality movies without ever truly breaking out as a headline star. The likes of Buried, The Voices and Woman in Gold have offered consistently rewarding viewing, while even his blockbuster work in such fare as Green Lantern and RIPD has been above par. Yet none of it has made him the next Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp.

Perhaps the upcoming Marvel superhero flick Deadpool will finally elevate the 39-year-old to the big league, but in the meantime, here's another Reynolds gem sadly destined to go unseen by the majority of cinemagoers.

In the low-budget, independent drama Mississippi Grind, the versatile Canadian plays a freewheeling drifter named Curtis, who hooks up with Ben Mendelsohn's broken-down gambling addict Gerry in a small-town Iowa bar. "How much do you owe?" Curtis asks. "A lot," Gerry replies. "To who?" "Everyone." And so, the new friends hit the trail, lured by a high-stakes poker game in New Orleans, which they hope will reverse their dwindling fortunes before it's too late.

Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar, It's Kind of a Funny Story), the film is a road trip on paper, but a character study at heart.

Reynolds' arch loner, as strangely well-connected as he is socially isolated, remains an enigma for much of the tale, while Mendelsohn essays another of the sad-eyed, desperate souls the Australian supporting player does so well. Despite - or perhaps because of - being separated by continents, physical presences and acting styles, the two actors make a fabulous team as they wind their way south, Gerry recklessly wagering their money any way he can and Curtis attempting to bed every woman he meets.

The pair are fully-formed characters, and in Reynolds and Mendelsohn's expert hands remain sympathetic to the end, no mean feat, considering compulsive gamblers aren't often easy to root for.

Elsewhere, Sienna Miller - like Reynolds, another pin-up figure increasingly delivering substantial performances - and Alfre Woodard make the most of their small roles.

You're never quite sure where the plot is going, and unlike many movies set in this world, Mississippi Grind makes no attempt to glamorise the roll of the dice.

From authentic details such as the burnt-out look of the hard-living protagonists - no Mark Wahlberg in the lamentable The Gambler-style fresh faces here - to a bluesy soundtrack that complements the dingy locales, light-years away from the dazzle of Las Vegas, everything about Mississippi Grind comes up trumps.

Sure, it is unashamedly in thrall to the 1970s classics it is so obviously influenced by, but if this means we get to watch a film about real people living real lives in real places, then a bit of nostalgic hat-tipping can be forgiven.

Boden and Fleck's low-key piece emerges from the pack as one of the most affecting gambling movies since Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight or Wayne Kramer's The Cooler.

Belfast Telegraph

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