Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller
Running time: 108 mins
Release date: October 23rd
Ah, the Ryans. So handsome. So charming. So Canadian. And, of course, so poor when it comes to picking successful film projects. While Gosling’s efforts at least seem to gain some critical or cult traction, Reynolds has sadly been out in the cold for a while, having made only one truly great film –The Voices – in the last five years. It’s a shame, because he’s just so likeable that it’s a let-down to see him in such dreck as this year’s Self/Less. Mississippi Grind gives him a chance to lay on the charm once more though, and to his fans’ great relief, it’s actually quite good.
Filmmaking team Anna Boden and Ryan (yep) Fleck are most well known for their dark yet uplifting debut feature Half Nelson, which made an indie darling of Gosling. Now it’s Reynolds’ turn, here playing a young, laidback dude who befriends a middle-aged schlub who’s down on his luck, trying to help him turn his life around. Hmm, sounds like that character in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Who played that guy again?
Yes, Reynolds is borrowing liberally from Gosling’s character in that other film, but in fairness his Curtis does have a sight more emotional depth. Meeting Ben Mendelsohn’s Gerry at a poker table, he immediately makes an impression on the older man and a friendship, a roadtrip, and a plot is born. The fun of Mississippi Grind comes from trying to work out who’s conning who in the odd relationship that forms between these two roving gamblers. We spend a lot of the film waiting for the inevitable twist, trying to spot the scam or figure out the agenda of the characters. It’s a little more complex than that, however. Gerry is a true gambling addict and his exploits can be uncomfortable and even stressful to watch. It feels like a raw and honest portrait of this man, and through Reynolds’ eyes we can see his ambition and weakness, and sometimes it hurts.
As good as Reynolds is here, it is Mendelsohn who truly stands out. Anyone who has seen Animal Kingdom, Starred Up, or the hundred other movies where he has been typecast as ‘vicious psychopath’ will be surprised by the tenderness and fallibility he brings to Gerry. His hero worship of Curtis (well, who wouldn’t follow Reynolds anywhere?) is by turns cute and pathetic. We’re willing to follow this pair all the way to the inevitable tragic end, but the film lets itself down by finishing the story, then running for about another twenty minutes. Still, it’s nice to see one of the Ryans in a genuinely good film, and fingers are crossed for next year’s Deadpool, while Gosling has Blade Runner on the horizon. Meanwhile, somewhere Ryan Phillippe is sitting watching a video of Crash winning Best Picture, a single tear falling onto his keyboard as he awaits his turn.