Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Alfre Woodard, James Toback
Written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 108
Date: 09/25/2015
IMDB

Mississippi Grind (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Card Road

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This could have been an ordinary road trip/gambling movie, but instead it concerns itself with human frailties, behavior, and desires. It deals in layered characters, operating in a vivid world. The co-writer and co-director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar, It's Kind of a Funny Story) are great humanists who seem to care less about narrative flow than they do about organic characters. The characters are both rich creations, with intriguing surfaces and complex inner workings.

A down-and-out gambler, Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn), can't seem to keep his head above water, divorced, with a daughter he never sees, and in trouble with money lenders. At a card game, he meets the scrappy, fast-talking Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) and they become fast friends. Gerry discovers that, with Curtis at his side, he begins winning. So he suggests a gambling road trip to raise enough cash to clear his debts. At first, things seem to go well, but it Curtis has some issues of his own to work through, and eventually Gerry falls into some of his old habits. After a devastating loss, the men must discover if their friendship is worth hanging onto.

Reynolds and Mendelsohn rise to their best work here, especially the latter, a great character actor, who lands a rare leading role here (usually playing lowlifes and bad guys). Tiny roles are filled out by strong presences like Alfre Woodard and James Toback, and Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton are excellent as a couple of hostesses. The filmmakers also take time to immerse the characters in a vivid atmosphere (Memphis, New Orleans, etc.), all in all making for a very satisfying ride.

Lionsgate has released this underappreciated movie in a Blu-ray edition with an optional digital copy. Disappointingly, the only extra is a studio-produced featurette. I would have liked to hear a commentary track by Fleck and Boden...

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