Some of you may have heard or seen something notable about the film “Mississippi Grind,” in that it was filmed in Dubuque. It’s true — some of the shots are recognizable if you live in this small city of ours, notably Paul’s Tavern downtown. This isn’t the only notable thing about it, however. Come for the Dubuque part; stay for the solid performances by its two lead stars.
Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a gambling addict from Iowa who meets fellow gambler Curtis (Ryan Reynolds). They become friends and soon go off on a journey to New Orleans. In that time, they hit St. Louis, meet a couple of women, visit Little Rock where Gerry meets his ex-wife and leaves on a sour note when he’s caught trying to steal from her sock drawer, and finally hit New Orleans where their escapades get wilder still.
This is an indie film that actually wears the label correctly. Despite having Ryan Reynolds and Sienna Miller in its cast and being set in cities like St. Louis and New Orleans, there’s nothing particularly flashy about this film. It’s a small-scale picture, and it works. What the film does go big on is the gambling, which is shown in numerous places and formats: whether it’s in the casinos or at the races, small-time bets or big money.
It helps that the lead actors each nail their performances. Reynolds is as good as he’s ever been as the charismatic guy who doesn’t know when to shut up, but is smart enough to know when to stop gambling, and turns out to be a pretty good guy for the most part. Mendelsohn is his equal as the guy who’s the exact opposite: a pitiful addict who keeps digging himself into deeper and deeper holes and has burned bridges because he can’t stop himself. Mendelsohn’s performance is sort of reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman, and it is a performance of which Hoffman himself would be proud.
“Mississippi Grind” is a good little flick. It misses out on being better by copping out on the ending. Gambling addiction is a serious and debilitating problem for many people, yet the film takes the path that neither depicts its consequences nor gives us any reason to root for it. The real scene that reveals what this movie could have been is when they’re in New Orleans. In it, Gerry places a large amount of money on a long-shot horse, and the horse loses. Gerry is devastated, but he is an addict: he wants to keep going. Curtis hands him $100 and tells him to get a bus ticket and go home. That scene has the sort of willingness to be more grounded in reality that the ending doesn’t have the courage to own up to.
By the time you read this, this film is expected to be available through video on demand. If you see it while scrolling through movies you think you might want to watch, it’s worth it to see two actors prove their worth on the screen. As long as the lackluster ending doesn’t turn you off too badly, it’s a deserving investment.