The movie Mississippi Grind is a little bit of a sleeper. An independent film released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, it was never released in theaters but went straight to on-demand and video distribution.
This does not mean it is unworthy.
Mississippi Grind tells the tale of Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn), a down-and-out guy who has lost everything to his gambling addiction, including his wife and six year old daughter. Gerry will lie, cheat, and steal from anyone, good or bad, trusted or not trusted, to gain money for his next bet – and the toll of his addiction has certainly left a mark of depression on him. Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) is also a traveling gambler, but unlike Gerry, he has nothing to lose, and claims he remains untouched by it because he just likes people; he has nothing emotionally invested in his gambling. When they meet up, you might as well pour gasoline on Gerry’s fire. Between Gerry’s contacts and Curtis’s contacts, they go off on a gambling spree to try and earn the megafortune both seek, hitting up smaller gambling deals on their way to a mythical place of gambling on the Mississippi river.
Of course things go well and things go bad for them. While you feel bad for Gerry, at the same time you’d like to hit him with a brick and say “Enough already!”, but Gerry is truly addicted to gambling. Curtis isn’t as good a player, but he’s (slightly) more in charge of himself. In many ways, the down-and-out style of their relationship reminded me of Voigt and Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy.” I will not spoil the ending.
The movie is slow, a character study far more than an action film, but what truly stands out is its score. Ignoring the start of the film in the mid-West, the movie overflows with languinous tracks of hardcore blues songs evocative of Mississippi and the deep south. Fast or slow, modern or old folk, it is worth watching the movie for its soundtrack alone. You know some of the singers – Odetta, John Lee Hooker, and some of the songs – a reworking of Frankie and Johnny, for instance, but together they lend an unforgettable undercurrent to the movie that will stick with you long after the credits finish rolling. It is so chock full of music, the soundtrack was released on two albums (Gerry’s Road Mix; Curtis’s Road Mix), so if there’s one certain song you’re looking for, you’ll have to check for which one you need. Amazon won’t help you; they sell the albums but don’t list the tracks, but you can find them by Googling it.
And it makes you wonder – why wasn’t this ever put to theater release?