Ryan Reynolds first appearance as a new dad

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mississippi Grind’: Sundance Review.

“The journey’s the destination, sweetheart,” says Curtis, the slick gambler in Mississippi Grind, played by Ryan Reynolds with the air of a man who almost believes his winning streak is unbreakable. That statement encapsulates both the beauty and the limitations of this latest film by writer-director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a meandering road movie enriched by its fine-grained study of character and milieu, but somewhat lethargic and momentum-deprived in terms of narrative. Still, admirers of the filmmakers’ previous work will find the rambling ride intoxicating, not least for its affectionate tip of the hat to Robert Altman’s California Split. Gerry, played by Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, is an empty shell of man who slumps through life in dumpy trousers listening only to Joe Navarro books on tape.

They pair a slick, savvy pro with a down-on-his-luck poker player who tags along in his new friend’s seemingly magical wake, from racetracks to floating card games to casinos. The two meet on a lark and straight away take to one an additional, and it’s not just the enabling that keeps them on a shared path of self-destruction. But Mississippi Grind acknowledges a debt to a whole spate of films from that decade — loose-limbed portraits of free spirits, drifters, disarming reprobates and likeable losers.

Even though the mystery is compelling at the start, practically nothing is spoon-fed to the audience, which leads to a couple of scenes that just don’t track at all. In the same way, this new film is less a direct examination of the compulsion of gambling, with its rollercoaster highs and lows, than it is a soulful reflection on the desperation of men who buy into the unreliable dream that a windfall will satisfy their inarticulate longings. Fleck joked that he didn’t know what she was talking about since he wasn’t there that day and moved on, eliciting some groans from audience members expecting a more thoughtful answer. That subdued air of melancholy, along with a gentle strain of humor, runs through the film much like the river that shapes the two men’s journey as they head from Iowa, via multiple gambling stops, to a $25,000-stake high-roller poker game in New Orleans.

The beautifully shot “Mississippi Grind” isn’t concerned with answers, though, which could be infuriating for some, but the charm of the film rests in the hands of its tragic but intoxicating leads — not dissimilar to the allure of gambling. And while the tone is relaxed and playful, the underlying sadness comes through, perhaps most poignantly in Reynolds’ Curtis, in moments when his effortless charisma and unflappable confidence don’t quite hide the needling glimmers of self-frustration or loneliness.

Opposite him, Ben Mendelsohn plays Gerry, a haggard-looking schlub with an estranged ex-wife (Robin Weigert) and daughter behind him and a whole mountain of gambling debts creeping up on him — as a local loan shark (Alfre Woodard) reminds him with icy-cool seriousness. Weigert and Woodard have just one absolutely terrific scene apiece, but they nail a complete history of affection turned to dwindling forbearance for Gerry’s failings.

The movie’s chief pleasure is watching Mendelsohn in a wonderful role that’s both shifty and sincere, taking maximum advantage of the Australian actor’s hangdog appeal and sauntering physicality. Since Gerry’s day job as a third-rate real estate broker is never going to get him out of the hole, he hitches his wagon to Curtis after they meet during a card game and bond over bourbon.

Breezing into town on the back of a picture-book rainbow, Curtis obviously enjoys spreading his lucky-charm largesse, even if he makes intermittent moves to offload Gerry as a bad risk. The film casts a spell moment to moment, although its pacing demands considerable patience and its cumulative effect doesn’t deliver in conventional terms. True to the storytelling principles that have shaped their movies, Boden and Fleck are interested mainly in observing the ways in which Curtis and Gerry pull together and draw apart, deceiving one another out of self-interest and then opening up out of a desire to connect to a kindred spirit. The polished movie’s limberness to a large degree comes from its invigorating use of flavorful blues and honkytonk tunes, including vocal, guitar and piano pieces.

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