Blu-ray Review: Mississippi Grind

By , Contributor
Though it's plot is thick with cliches, Mississippi Grind rises above the typical direct-to-video glut thanks in large part to a pair of knockout performances. Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn star as a pair of gamblers on the road from Iowa to New Orleans (with many detours along the way). A gripping narrative is not what co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are after. This is a subtly drawn character study, with Mendelsohn's umpteen-time loser Gerry front and center. Gerry is a seemingly hopeless gambling addict who listens over and over to a CD explaining how to identify and interpret dozens of "tells" in poker. Grind doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel in terms of 'gamblers on a gambling spree' movies, but the leads dig as deep as they can.

Gerry's generally dour demeanor sparks to life when he meets Curtis (Reynolds), an outwardly carefree gambler. The two become fast friends and embark on a journey that finds them ebbing and flowing financially while indulging in a never-ending gambling binge. We learn things about Gerry and Curtis slowly as Grind unfolds. It's not exciting, but the authentically lived-in lead portrayals keep things compelling. Gerry's ruined family life—an ex-wife who wants nothing to do with him, a young daughter he doesn't know—seems to fuel his self-destructive addiction. Did his insatiable appetite for gambling lead to the ruin of his personal life, or did his failure as a husband and father lead him to gamble? Either way, he owes everyone money but he never has any. Not that he can hold onto, at least.

Honestly, Curtis is less interesting as a character and therefore Reynolds doesn't wind up making as deep an impression as Mendelsohn. Curtis is a bit younger than Gerry, a bit more charismatic and flamboyant in his lifestyle. He certainly has commitment issues. While it's clear he cares (or thinks he does, as the very least) about his escort girlfriend Simone (Sienna Miller, underutilized), he jumps around from partner to partner. As Curtis and Gerry's friendship unfolds, viewers may find themselves wondering if the meandering tale is worth their time. There's no big payoff at the end, but watching Ryan Reynolds and (especially) Ben Mendelsohn explore the lives of these difficult-to-like losers makes this one worth seeking out. 
Mississippi Grind BD (302x380).jpg While Mississippi Grind may have benefited from a grittier, grainier visual aesthetic than what is offered by Andrij Parekh's characterless cinematography, that's not the fault of Lionsgate's excellent Blu-ray presentation. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is similarly faultless, prominently showcasing the bluesy music by Scott Bomar. Just don't expect sonic fireworks, as this is one low-key film from a sonic perspective.

Special features: "Two of a Kind: On the Road with Mississippi Grind" is a 17-minute promotional-oriented 'making of' featurette that offers a bland look behind the scenes.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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