Gerry is a talented poker player, but his gambling habit is getting the best of him. One day, he meets a charismatic young traveler named Curtis. Deeming Curtis his lucky charm, Gerry convinces him that they should hit the road together. As they gamble their way down South toward a legendary high-stakes poker game in New Orleans, the trip’s highs and lows unveil the duo’s true character and motivation, and an undeniable bond forms between them.
Writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck return to the Sundance Film Festival (Half Nelson, Sugar) with an intoxicating story of compulsive gamblers that flawlessly captures the seedy world of small-time losers and dreamers. The film’s atmosphere of frenzied hope and paranoia at the various racetracks, bars, and casinos is suffused with an evocative soundtrack and enlivened by two pitch-perfect performances. Ryan Reynolds shines as the confident, jocular Curtis. But the film’s true revelation is Ben Mendelsohn, who, as Gerry, is finally given a leading role in an American film and crushes it. Mississippi Grind instantly joins the classic canon of films about gambling. —T.G.
“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. ~The Hollywood Reporter
“…From there it’s on to Memphis, where Gerry’s luck takes an unexpected (by him) turn for the worst, followed by an unplanned detour to Little Rock, where an ill-advised reunion with his ex-wife (Robin Weigert, piercing in a one-scene role) tells us everything we need to know about the long trail of failure and heartache that’s led him to this point.“
Matt Sobel, in his first feature, creates a world wrought with secrets, misinterpretations, and subtext. Ryder, an artsy teenager, travels from California with his parents, Don and Cindy, for a family reunion in Nebraska. Upon their arrival, Ryder’s impish nine-year-old cousin, Molly, leads him to a barn to show him a bird’s nest. What happens behind barn doors makes Ryder the sudden target of suspicion and unearths a long-buried family secret. Ryder and his parents are ill-equipped to handle the fallout; Cindy, in particular, does her best to remain positive. Ultimately, Ryder must come to terms with the truth on his own.
This unique family drama is told through the lenses of characters with questionable motives and mysterious behaviors. Like Ryder, the audience must reach its own conclusions about what is truth and what is fiction. In his moving portrait of an internally broken family, Sobel proves that sometimes the truth must remain undiscovered in order to survive.—R.K.
“Yet, if Sobel’s filmmaking is somewhat grueling, the cast is uniformly terrific. The always-dependable Robin Weigert, who made a splash at Sundance in 2013 with ‘Concussion,’ is great as the anxious mother with a hidden secret.”