Friday, April 26, 2019

Mississippi Grind

Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Mississippi Grind is the story of two gamblers who meet at a poker game as they travel to New Orleans for a high stakes poker game as they bond through their love of gambling. The film is an exploration of gambling as two men in different paths come together in the hope to get a big score. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Robin Weigert, James Toback, and Alfre Woodard. Mississippi Grind is an exhilarating and engrossing film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Two different gamblers in different directions of winning and losing meet at a poker game as they bond through their love of gambling as they travel from Iowa to New Orleans for a high stakes poker game hoping for a big score. It’s a film that is a road film of sorts but also a story of two men who live through gambling as they both have a love for it but also hope to get a lot of money for a better life. The film’s screenplay by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck follow the different paths of its protagonist as Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a man that constantly loses and going through some financial issues as he owes money to a loan shark in Sam (Alfre Woodard) who is sympathetic to his issues but wants what he owes her. Gerry is also divorced and hasn’t seen his six-year old daughter in years where he knows he messed up and wants to do right but has a gambling addiction with a real estate job that isn’t going anywhere. It’s where he meets a young traveling gambler in Curtis Vonn (Ryan Reynolds) who is on a hot streak hoping to go to New Orleans for a score as he and Gerry meet up and share their stories of gambling and such.

Curtis agrees to take Gerry to New Orleans from Dubuque, Iowa as long as Gerry drives where they would make several stops to various cities down the Mississippi River and would make some money through greyhound races and card games along the way. During a stop in St. Louis, Curtis and Gerry meet a couple of prostitutes in Simone (Sienna Miller) and Vanessa (Analeigh Tipton) as Simone and Curtis have some history that Gerry notices. Gerry would reveal that he still has feelings for his ex-wife Dorothy (Robin Weigert) though his visit to her home at Little Rock, Arkansas would only bring trouble following a set-back for both Curtis and Gerry. The script does show that as flawed as both Gerry and Curtis are as men in their pursuit of gambling. They still carry some humanity and goodness as Curtis’ often talkative and energetic persona is a front for some of the pain he carries into his own life as he also has another reason to go to New Orleans.

The film’s direction from Boden and Fleck is largely intimate in its presentation as it is shot on various locations such as New Orleans, Little Rock, St. Louis, Memphis, and various parts around the Mississippi River. While there’s some wide shots in the direction, Boden and Fleck focus on this intimate friendship between Curtis and Gerry that slowly develops as the latter is someone that is in need of luck while the former is in need to find the next path in his life having traveled so much. The film would often feature Gerry listening to a self-help CD to be a better gambler as it would occur often during the course of the film. Boden and Fleck’s usage of close-ups and medium shots help play into the conversations between Curtis and Gerry in a car or what goes on during a poker game where Boden and Fleck would shoot something on a hand-held camera and focus on what one player is seeing in his head or how he’s reacting physically as it play into the things Gerry is listening to from the CD.

With Boden serving as the film’s editor, there is a fluid and rhythmic approach to the editing where the shots do last to get a sense of the location as well as the way the conversations are edited. The direction also play into these somber moments such as Gerry playing piano with Vanessa sitting beside him while Curtis and Simone listen in the other room. Boden and Fleck would also carry this somber mood into the third act as it relates to Gerry’s bad luck as well as Curtis’ own setbacks and his own insecurities once they reach New Orleans to play in this game that is run by a famed gambler that Curtis knows. It also play into two men who both aren’t sure when to quit but they have this need to win something no matter how much they lose. Overall, Boden and Fleck craft a riveting and compelling film about two gamblers working together to work to play a big game in New Orleans.

Cinematographer Andrij Pakeh does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of low-key and natural lights for many of the interior scenes at night including the casinos and bars while emphasizing on something realistic for the exterior scenes in the day and night. Production designer Jade Healy, with set decorator Selina van den Brink and art director James A. Gelarden, does excellent work with the look of the place where Simone and Vanessa work at as well as a few motel rooms and places where Gerry and Curtis play poker. Costume designer Abby O’Sullivan does nice work with the clothes from the stylish clothes that Simone and Vanessa would wear as well as stylish suits that Gerry and Curtis would wear at a riverboat casino.

Visual effects supervisor Luke DiTommaso does wonderful work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects as it mainly focuses on set dressing and a low-key dramatic scene during a simple conversation between Gerry and Curtis. Sound designer Abigail Savage does superb work with the sound as it play into the loud sounds of machines at a casino as well as the sounds of crowds at a casino or at a racetrack along with low-key moments in some of the different locations of the film. The film’s music by Scott Bomar is terrific for its blues-based score that help play into the atmosphere of the locations while music supervisor Jim Black provide a soundtrack that mainly focuses on blues, jazz, folk, and other traditional forms of music that play into the atmosphere of the Mississippi River and its many locations.

The casting by Cindy Tolan is fantastic as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from famed country-rock singer/songwriter Marshall Chapman as a club singer in New Orleans, Robin Weigert as Gerry’s ex-wife Dorothy who harbors some mistrust and issues with him, filmmaker James Toback as a revered poker player that Curtis claims to know, and Alfre Woodard in a superb performance as a friend of Gerry who loaned him money as she is sympathetic but also serious about wanting her money back. Analeigh Tipton is excellent as Vanessa as a young prostitute who befriends Gerry as a woman who has a lot more to offer than be pretty as she is still trying to figure things out for herself while finding some support from Gerry in what she wants to do.

Sienna Miller is amazing as Simone as a prostitute and on-off companion of Curtis as she is suspicious about Curtis’ intentions for Gerry while is also unsure about embarking on a serious relationship with Curtis. Finally, there’s the duo of Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds in incredible performances in their respective roles as Gerry and Curtis. Mendelsohn displays a physicality as someone who has been on a major losing streak as well as this humility where Mendelsohn sells his character’s insecurities as well as his determination to win. Reynolds’ performance as Curtis is showier in terms of its energy and being very talkative about anything and everything with a sense of charm yet also displays some vulnerability as someone that really wants a better life for himself. Mendelsohn and Reynolds together are a joy to watch as two men who both want to win but also realize their worth to each other as they have this natural chemistry and rapport where they both bring the best in each other.

Mississippi Grind is a sensational film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck that features great performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Fleck. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous locations, themes of gambling and friendship, and a sumptuous music soundtrack. It’s a film that definitely explore two men who bond through gambling as well as not being afraid in showing how flawed they are as well as this sense of hope that gambling can bring for them. In the end, Mississippi Grind is a spectacular film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck Films: Half Nelson - Sugar (2008 film) - It's Kind of a Funny Story - Captain Marvel - The Auteurs #71: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

© thevoid99 2019


Brittani Burnham said...

Where the fuck did this come from? This is the first time I've heard of it. lol

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It's been out for a few years as I think it disappeared quickly at art house theaters. Shame because this is a great film. I'll write more about it on the Auteurs piece on Boden/Fleck which will come next month.