Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar) places us in the disturbing world of gambling addiction. Like the two main characters, we grow increasingly anxious and are never certain as to where we are going. The film, "Mississippi Grind" does for gambling what "Leaving Las Vegas" did for alcoholism.
In Iowa, Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) a compulsive gambler is shaking with tremors, down and out. In walks the sly and confident Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) who is as flirtatious with cards as he is with women. During a quick poker game at a small casino, Gerry wins. Because of this happenstance, Gerry gets the fixed idea that Curtis is his good luck charm. The two plan to go to New Orleans together, gambling along the way, stopping at last to make a big score.
After this first win, Curtis takes his leave and Gerry is stabbed in the gut and robbed of his winnings. The next morning, the phone calls commence. There are insistent voices asking Gerry about money. His bookie (Alfre Woodard) gives him a hard shoulder.
The noose tightens.
One of the most upsetting aspects of the film is the fact that Gerry is powerless, hooked by his lust for chance and his fixation for the younger and nonchalant Curtis.
Disquieting too is the hint that Curtis, despite his glib and carefree aura is not all that skilled or pulled together. The pair is hooked in co-dependency.
Although Ryan Reynolds gives his best performance in a film to date, (gone are the wisecracks, absent is the gullible good boy persona) the film is three-quarters Ben Mendelsohn who is unshakeably pained and painful to watch. He has a jumpy and depressive live-wire torment that borders the supernatural. Gerry is dry and dessicated, perpetually thirsty with wishes that can never be quenched.
Mendelsohn's spastic, sporadic cries as well as his babbling rolls actually carry the taste of what it is to be addicted. Add an intoxicating Blues soundtrack featuring songs by Little Royal, John Lee Hooker and Memphis Minnie along with some shots of old roadside bars, gone to seed and one witnesses a quirky but very real film that exposes our lustful underbelly.
In its sadness that has the melancholy glee of a story by Charles Bukowski, "Mississippi Grind" makes an estranged cousin to John Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy."
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org