Down-on-his-luck gambler Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) and his hot--streak buddy Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) hit the road for New Orleans, on the hunt for the big payday. On riverboats and racetracks they chase women and thrills-before risking it all in the wager of their lives.
The best thing about 'Mississippi Grind' may be the fact that Ryan Reynolds has finally found a role that fits his personality. After seeing him in far too many movies where he's either trying to do all-out comedy or playing it totally serious and straight, this fast-talking live-life-as-it-comes performance as a gambler seems tailor-made for him. And it's not even the best performance in the movie. That nod goes to his co-star Ben Mendelsohn, playing a gambler who is the very antithesis of the one Reynolds plays – he's down on his luck, deeply in debt, and addictively compulsive.
Mendelson stars as Gerry, who first meets up with Curtis (Reynolds' character) during a poker game in an Iowa casino. After a number of chance meetings over the next couple of days, Gerry notices that he almost never loses when Curtis is around and wants to join him on a trip down to New Orleans for a big jackpot poker tournament that is coming up. Curtis is fascinated enough with Gerry to agree, and the bulk of the movie involves the two men making the road trip south, hitting cities like St. Louis and Memphis along the way, and doing a bit of gambling and a lot of pondering about life in each.
While Curtis may be the more likeable of the two characters from a viewer standpoint, Gerry is the far more interesting study, as he's the very definition of a perpetual loser – constantly gambling away any advances he may have obtained. He owes some loan sharks a lot of cash back home, has a failed marriage due to his addiction, and it's a surprise to no one watching the movie that he manages to lose all of the money he has before the two men make it to New Orleans.
Curtis, on the other hand, is the real mystery of 'Mississippi Grind', and one of the reasons I didn't give the film a higher rating than I do here. While Reynolds is very watchable in the role, the writers and directors (who are one and the same here) haven't developed his character enough to give the audience an understanding of just why Curtis is even involved with Gerry in the first place. At first, I thought maybe Curtis was playing a long con with Gerry to bilk him out of any savings he might have left, but the only reason 'Mississippi Grind' gives us for Curtis' interest in Gerry is that he seems to enjoy his company. I suppose that's a good enough reason for the purposes of this film, but I couldn't help but spend most of my viewing time wondering why anyone – gambler or not – would want to associate with a guy with such a perpetual string of bad luck.
Another problem I had with the movie is its ending. Without giving anything away, I'm not sure the two main characters at the end of the movie have changed in any significant way. I suppose the filmmakers would like us to think that they have, but there's enough ambiguity (which I generally like in my movies, but not here) in place for audiences to imagine that both Curtis and Gerry will go back to the same kind of people they were when the film got underway. That's not necessarily a bad thing as character arcs go, but it makes you wonder if there was a point to their story at all.
Although a lot of critics out there have praised 'Mississippi Grind' as a film, I believe what they're really praising are the lead performances and not necessarily the storyline of the movie. I enjoyed watching Mendelsohn and Reynolds work here a great deal, and – as already mentioned – it was particularly fun seeing how good Reynolds can be on-screen when he's in a role that really fits his talent as an actor. But I can't quite recommend the movie overall. At best, it's worth giving it a rent for the acting, but not really for the tale being told.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Mississippi Grind' places its bets on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the 25GB single-layer disc along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Sicario, The Captive, Slow West, Cut Bank, and Dark Places. The main menu consists of the same image on the box cover, animated so that dice, poker chips, and cards are flying out towards the viewer. Menu selections run horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Mississippi Grind' was shot on 35mm film using Arricam LT equipment and is presented here in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The video transfer here is a solid one, leaning slightly on the warm side of things, but never oversaturated. Detail isn't quite razor-sharp, but the movie does look good in the HD format, and film grain, while present, is nicely and consistently pushed to the background. Black levels are solid, if not quite inky deep, and there are no obvious issues with banding or aliasing that I noticed.
This isn't the kind of transfer that is going to 'wow' you in terms of high-def depth or image sharpness, but one instead that provides a solid film-like appearance throughout and good representation of what the movie looked like during its theatrical exhibition.
The only audio option here is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which more than serves its purpose for what is primarily a 'talking' movie, enhanced by some occasional soundtrack tunes (both performed on-screen and as part of the soundtrack) and by the ambient noises one would find at the various gambling venues, bars, and other locations the two main characters visit during the course of the film. Virtually all the dialogue in the movie comes from up-front, while the rears are used both to enhance the film's score (again, both performances on-screen and those on the soundtrack) and to provide some slight immersion in scenes that take place at various locales. This certainly isn't one of those lossless tracks that will 'wow' you, but it's also glitch-free and provides for a pleasant enough listening experience.
Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
The strength of 'Mississippi Grind' comes from its two lead actors, as both Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn turn in strong performances. The film's weakness, however, is that its road trip plot is really a journey to nowhere – I'm not sure the audience learns any more about these characters at the end of the movie than they knew at the beginning, nor is it really confirmed that the characters have changed in any meaningful way. Still, for the acting alone, this one is worth a rental.