Like all actors, Ryan Reynolds is a gambler, and some of his bets have not paid off. The Voices? Awful. Self/Less? Embarrassing. Mississippi Grind? That’s more in line with his work in The Woman in Gold earlier this year - impressive, but not up to his full (and feisty) potential.
In Mississippi Grind, Ryan plays the second banana to Ben Mendelsohn’s Gerry, a chronic gambler with nothing to lose and nothing left. Ryan’s Curtis is equal parts cooler and enabler in the film, and joins Gerry on a road trip to help build back his fortune, or at least make enough bank to pay off his debts.
Along the way, Curtis the drifter pulls a few favours on Gerry’s behalf. He cashes in with Sienna Miller’s Simone, a lady of the night, who keeps him and Gerry company on the road. But the story does not really go anywhere. The “against all odds” trope has been done before, and been done better. Mendelsohn’s Gerry is compelling, but he’s barely an anti-hero you want to root for. Even Bill Murray in St. Vincent, also a chronic gambler, was more relatable. You wanted to know more about his backstory. In Gerry’s case, he’s simply SOL and desperate for a band-aid solution. It’s not sad or dark enough to keep you on his side, so you empathize with Curtis’ reluctance to keep him in the fold.
Mississippi Grind played at Sundance earlier this year and will have a VOD/theatrical release. Watching it, you understand why they’re not doubling down on it in a play for big box office. It’s okay. Mississippi Grind is the definition of a two-and-a-half star rental. Because while Sienna’s Simone is certainly bewitching, the movie never fully draws you in. It’s not Ryan’s fault either.
Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are the masters of the anti-hero, having done so before in Half Nelson (which earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination), about a crack-addicted history teacher and Sugar, about a minor league baseball player. But here, the two phone it in, and play a low stakes game.