An alpha Ryan Reynolds takes on a smart deadbeat gambler Ben Mendelsohn, for a road-trip movie that never reaches its big pay-off
Machiavelli is supposed to have said that gambling is something to encourage in your enemy’s country but suppress in your own. It’s hard to know how or if to apply that pessimistic maxim to Mississippi Grind, a melancholy, earnest road movie about a couple of poker players played by Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds; the writer-directors are Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, best known for Half Nelson in 2006, their co-written debut (directed by Fleck solo) starring Ryan Gosling as a troubled schoolteacher.
It is a watchable if faintly baffling movie, never anything other than well acted, conspicuously without allegiance to any conventional three-act screenplay structure. Like the river in the title, it just keeps rolling along, long after you have given up waiting for the big twist or the killer reveal or the double-cross sucker punch. This is something in the looser, untrammelled, even undirected style of the 1970s American New Wave: there’s an ancestor-worship acting cameo for James Toback. It also puts its own spin on the buddy movies of the era: Redford/Newman from George Roy Hill’s The Sting and Segal/Gould from Robert Altman’s California Split.