“Mississippi Grind,” from the filmmaking team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, is a classical character piece about a downcast schlub and his handsome good luck charm, following them as they travel the eponymous river, winning at poker tables en route to a big tournament in New Orleans.
It soaks in the Midwestern setting — the journey begins in Iowa and heads south — and as protagonists Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) weave their way through various gambling facilities along the mighty river, the film achieves a significant measure of authenticity. The movie feels ripped directly from the heartland of America, balancing Gerry’s plight with the larger sad and beautiful stories of cities like St. Louis and Memphis, and the hard times they’ve faced.
The Australian Mendelsohn, an accomplished veteran, does a deep dive into the essence of his character, an addict worn down by life and desperately seeking a reason to believe, a cause for hope.
His performance here is a small miracle, one worthy of attention: Mendelsohn takes an individual who might, in a lesser movie, be simply described as a loser, and imbues him with compassionate regard for his plight.