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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Mississippi Grind (Blu-ray)
Mississippi Grind (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // December 1, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Nick Hartel | posted December 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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It's likely no shocker a film about two degenerate gamblers from the writing/directing team that brought us the harrowing "Half Nelson" is going to be at least a little emotional draining. "Mississippi Grind" is part road movie, part character study, assembling Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds as two externally opposite, but internally related gamblers whose styles complement each other enough to embark on a road trip down the Mississippi in hopes of luck-supported fortune. Along the way, Mendelsohn's Gerry and Reynolds' Curtis drift from small-time casinos to horse tracks, encountering everyone from Gerry's ex-wife to Curtis' beleaguered girlfriend, Simone (Sienna Miller in a pleasant, brief supporting role). At every step of the way though, as one might expect, days of wine and roses, these are not.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's script is the biggest adversary rendering "Mississippi Grind" a mere curiosity piece in the pantheon of road films and/or gambler tales, depending on your fancy. Sticking to a very telegraphed three-act structure, "Mississippi Grind" starts well enough, painting a big distinction between Gerry and Curtis, one a loser in the most simple of terms, the other a grinning, fast-talking everyman (Reynolds' casting in the role is one of the film's strengths and I struggle to think how original choice, Jake Gyllenhaal would have fit in the role). At first the viewer is led to believe Gerry is Curtis' mark, but as the two pair up to travel down the golden road to fortune, there's a perpetual uneasiness about Gerry that makes what might actually happen a little harder to nail down.

Working in "Mississippi Grind's" favor is Andrij Parekh's cinematography giving the film a visual look that when coupled with its theme of gambling, echoes ever so slightly, Altman's superior 1974 classic "California Split." Boden and Fleck's direction along with a persistent self-deprecating spirit throughout the script also evoke the melancholy awkwardness of "Sideways". Still, the film never quite nails down an overall tone, building to two powerful scenes closing out the second act and warming up the third: one between Gerry and his ex-wife (Robin Weigert, looking nothing like "Deadwood's" Calamity Jane) heartbreaking and tense, the other at a sparsely attended horse track with Gerry and Curtis seemingly all but solidifying their own sad fates. Unfortunately, the film's third act strays into territory of wish-fulfillment and major suspension of disbelief, still with an unsure outcome, but such a tonal curve ball, that it muddles the whole point of the film.

Reynolds and Mendelsohn are the one consistent in "Mississippi Grind" that keeps it from being truly mediocre. Mendelsohn proves once again he's a chameleon and capable of almost any performance (compare his sad sack Gerry here to his work in "Killing Them Softly" and "Animal Kingdom" to see the gamut of his talents) and brings Gerry to life in such a way, it's tough to watch his character flounder again and again over the course of the story. Reynolds' initial cool-demeanor slowly shows its cracks and he has a chance to show Curtis' vulnerabilities at just the right moment in the story. Stitching these two performances together is a strong theme of Southern culture that at the most overt consists of a blues-rich soundtrack and at its most subtle in little character moments such as Curtis apologizing for a social gaffe before starting a bathroom brawl. It's just a shame that the little gems that stick out in memory so heavily, don't reflect the end product that "Mississippi Grind" has to offer; the film is at its core, a so-so gambler, who hits it big but doesn't know when to walk away, overplaying his hand and leaving with a much smaller windfall.


THE VIDEO

The 1080p 2.40:1 transfer isn't nearly as sharp and flashy as most productions with detail looking a bit dialed back right out of the box. In any shot that isn't a close-up, the transfer doesn't quite scream HD, although the aesthetic of the film as a whole, a definite throwback to the 70s style of indie filmmaking, doesn't necessarily lend itself as fair competition to a more polished 21st century production. The warm color palette is appropriately garish at necessary thematic times, while a few more intimate moments of dialogue towards the third act of the film do reflect a more modern cinematographic flair. Black levels are intense and appropriate for the overall tone of the film.


THE AUDIO

The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master track is a little underwhelming as a whole. On the positive side, the film's southern-tinged, blue-centric soundtrack will get your system kicking and your feet tapping with an aggressive rich presentation of some bass heavy music. The actual sound design of the film is a little less impressive; while wholly clean and clear in presentation, dialogue is a bit flat and the use of the surrounds is a little erratic. It does well to create a nice atmosphere of the various locales explored in the film, but is a contrast to the often stageplay-esque nature of the story proper. Spanish subtitles and English SDH subtitles are included.


EXTRAS

The lone extra is a brief promotional featurette entitled "Two of a Kind: On The Road with Mississippi Grind." It's as informative as you'd expect from this sort of feature, by no means a substitute for a more in-depth making-of or a commentary track.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Existing somewhere between "Sideways" and 1970s sensibilities of a "California Split", "Mississippi Grind" much like the woeful gamblers it highlights, never quite makes it to that high-class level of essential viewing. A definitely disjointed film, it coasts on the competent performances of co-stars Mendelsohn and Reynolds to keep viewers invested in a controversial third act that feels like a betrayal of the genre. The technical presentation of this Blu-Ray release is above competent and enhances the throwback to the 70s. The long-term impact of the film however, is clearly minimal. Rent It.

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