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New Release Review - MISSISSIPPI GRIND

A down on his luck gambler teams up with a charismatic stranger.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Alfre Woodard, Analeigh Tipton




"Once you accept that Mississippi Grind doesn't have an original thought in its head, you can settle back and enjoy it as a somewhat superior buddy movie, albeit a highly derivative one. The opportunity to see Mendelsohn stretch himself, playing a character more pathetic than petrifying, justifies the admission price alone."





Imitation is the highest form of flattery, they say. Well I guess Robert Altman must be positive blushing right now. If the title of Mississippi Grind sounds a lot like the title of Altman's gambling masterpiece California Split, it's because Mississippi Grind is a lot like California Split. A hell of a lot. But given Altman's film is one of the finest character dramas in American cinema, that's okay by me.
California Split opens with the sound of an instructional poker video; Mississippi Grind opens with the sound of an instructional poker CD, being listened to by luckless gambler Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn), whose hairstyle looks a lot like that of George Segal in the 1974 film. While playing cards in a second rate casino, Gerry meets charismatic gambler Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a likeable sort who immediately befriends Gerry. With his luck taking a turn for the best since the arrival of Curtis, Gerry convinces his new buddy to accompany him on a road trip to Mississippi, the plan being to accumulate the funds necessary to enter a high stakes game along the way.
The California Split nods are numerous. As soon as Reynolds opens his mouth it becomes all too obvious he's imitating Elliott Gould, even appropriating Gould's Long Goodbye mantra, "It's okay by me!" As in the Altman film, at one point our heroes hook up with a pair of good time girls (Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton). Liberal use of zoom lens is present, though over-lapping dialogue is noticeably absent. The existential motivation of Segal's character has been replaced by Mendelsohn's all too practical desire to pay off massive debts, but his character arc is otherwise identical. It's not just Altman who gets plundered by filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck though. A scene on a basketball court is ripped straight from Karel Reisz's The Gambler, but again, James Caan's experiential desire is removed, making the scene redundant here beyond superficial homage. Meanwhile, a diversion to the home of Mendelsohn's ex-wife recalls Midnight Run.
All that said, once you accept that Mississippi Grind doesn't have an original thought in its head, you can settle back and enjoy it as a somewhat superior buddy movie, albeit a highly derivative one. The opportunity to see Mendelsohn stretch himself, playing a character more pathetic than petrifying, justifies the admission price alone. The truth is, many viewers will be sadly unfamiliar with California Split. For those, ignorance may prove bliss and Mississippi Grind may be considered great by them, but it's merely okay by us.



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