Never bet on a racehorse named after a disabled president!
A few weeks ago I bought the Blu-Ray for “No Escape”, which some of you will hopefully remember as topping the Top 10 list of films I watched at the cinema in 2015, and one of the trailers before the feature begins was for “Mississippi Grind” (I’m going to shorten to MG from now on). It stars one of my favourite underrated actors, Ben Mendelsohn, and Ryan Reynolds, a hit and miss actor for me. However, I quickly forgot about it.
Anyway, on Thursday evening I went to watch “Deadpool” at the cinema (which, just to get this in early, the only way it will reach my Top 10 of 2016 would be if I didn’t see a single other film for the rest of the year (I’m currently on 12)) and I remembered about this little known film, so I thought to myself that after five days in a row with the hits being lower than the day before, it was time to review this film.
So here I am, writing this little bit before I review MG in the hope that it is as good as the trailer made it look, and make it 2 approval stamps in a row (following on from 4th Man Out). I am somewhat optimistic, but watching some terrible films recently has made me a bit wary.
Gerry (Mendelsohn) is a debt-ridden gambling addict and he takes his latest attempt at winning big to a local game of Texas Hold ‘Em. His luck is down until Curtis (Reynolds) joins the table, and all of a sudden Gerry starts winning each and every time. The two befriend each other and Gerry soon starts noticing that all of his bets placed in the presence of Curtis come off.
Chased by loan-sharks, Gerry convinces Curtis to go to New Orleans with him and take on numerous gambling establishments along the way, with the aim of being able to buy his way into a $25,000 poker game at the end. The first stop is in St Louis, where they meet one of Curtis’ love interests, prostitute Simone (Miller). After winning big on a riverboat casino, the two celebrate, but Gerry gets carried away and loses all of the winnings on a hand which he appeared to be guaranteed to win, he neglects to tell Curtis until the two struggle to check into a hotel.
Curtis starts to grow frustrated by Gerry’s insistence on continuing, and it soon becomes obvious just how far the latter is willing to take it when he attempts to steal from his ex-wife, unbeknownst to Curtis. The relationship becomes so strained that it’s only a matter of time before another act of distrust forces the two apart.
Worth getting excited about?
MG isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, it’s very competent and the acting from both Mendelsohn (of course) and Reynolds is superb, but the film just lacks something that makes it a film that should have ended long before it’s near 110 minute run time.
As usual, I’ll start with the positives and as I briefly mentioned above, Mendelsohn is again fantastic. I’ve yet to see a film with him in where I wasn’t in awe of his abilities, and he is by no means a one-trick pony as he has played a different type of character in each of those. Whilst the character of Gerry isn’t that different from most other gambling addicts shown in film, Mendelsohn’s excessively competent performance really makes you care the for character, even when he is doing deplorable things. He brings an element of pity to the character as even when he is doing things such as stealing from his ex-wife, you feel sorry for him.
Having watched this film immediately after getting in from watching “Deadpool”, I immediately groaned when Ryan Reynolds’ Curtis sat down and just wouldn’t shut up. I have nothing against Ryan Reynolds, but unlike Mendelsohn, most of his roles are exactly the same, i/e the chatty, likeable, anti-hero type. Whilst he does those sorts of roles very well (as he in knows how to perform them very well, not that they’re good or enjoyable characters), it does become tiresome and when he first sits down and just keeps talking and talking, my hopes dropped…..but then as the movie progressed and Curtis got considerably less talkative, Reynolds definitely grew into the role.
Towards the end of the film the look of the character has changed and Ryan Reynolds has a great “I’ve had enough of your shit” face, and whilst you do sympathise with Gerry for his illness, you also feel great empathy for Curtis because of how he is treated, lied to and loses all faith in Gerry through the film. Towards the end of the film, Curtis is a beaten down man, probably even more so than Gerry at this point, and Reynolds nailed it.
The acting throughout MG is excellent and the characters are very well written, you care about them and their respective issues, but for me the best part of the film is the small touches here and there that aren’t often present in films. One such example comes early on when Gerry is testing Curtis’ luck in a coin toss, he is clearly drunk at this point and when going to catch the coin, he actually misses it, something that would realistically happen in the situation. Most other films would just have the character catching it perfectly each time, which isn’t very realistic. Also, at one point Gerry starts playing a piano and despite playing it reasonably well, there are several missed or incorrect notes during the song, showing that the character doesn’t have any redeeming perfections.
One of the more interesting choices that the film also brings in is that during the poker games you don’t see the cards that anyone has until the reveal at the end of the hand. This is an interesting approach as in other similar films I’ve seen, you know what the cards are and you can see the character digging themselves into a hole, but in this you don’t, you have no idea. I prefer this as it adds a sense of tension to the film.
Despite all of the great acting and interesting little touches here and there, MG just isn’t interesting enough to hold your interest for just shy of 110 minutes. There are long spells where not a lot is happening and just there for filler. For example, there is a scene in which Gerry notices that Curtis’ little toe on his right foot is missing, and Curtis tells him the story of how his granddad cut it off after he’d caused his sister to lose three toes. It’s a story that just doesn’t add anything of any real note to the film. It’s just filler and nothing more.
This causes the film to drag and I needed to stop to do something at one point, hit pause and saw that only 49 minutes had gone by and I wasn’t even half way through, and I sighed. At that point I didn’t feel motivated to commit myself to another hour of my time to the film. Don’t get me wrong, it is a competent film, but I’d already started to grow a little bored by that point and I wasn’t even half way through.
If you’re going to invest 110 minutes of your time in MG, which I’m not saying you shouldn’t, then be prepared for long spells of mundanity.
Competently acted and superbly written characters unfortunately don’t compensate for a film that feels almost like a stuttering car at times. 110 minutes is about 20 minutes to long for a film like this and numerous scenes feel unnecessary.
Mendelsohn and Reynolds are excellent and the little touches here and there do make the film somewhat unique, but it takes more than those two things to make a film stand out for me, it’s got to do something majorly different.
I’m not saying don’t watch it, but prepare yourself for not feeling overly exciting.