Mississippi Grind — 4/10

MISSISSIPPI GRIND (2015, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck)

Big-budget summer Hollywood blockbusters — they’re all the same: conventional, formulaic, appealing to the lowest common denominator. So commercial, they’re like shopping centers: you’ve seen one, you’ve seen a mall. [Pause for groaning].

Thus, we look to indies for America’s vanguard. Groundbreaking material, challenging subject matter, edgy confrontations with the human experience. What if there were a film about… get this, a down-on-his-luck gambler? Stick with me. Not one, but two of them! A natural partnership. Now what if this were also a road trip movie? Through the American heartland! And on the soundtrack, blues music of course — but the pièce de résistance is that when they get to New Orleans, it’s a Dixieland jazz tune. Picture one of them: middle aged, divorced, has a young daughter. And he owes money… to a bookie! The other one is young and handsome, but can’t commit to a woman he loves. Together, can they form an unlikely friendship? Can they risk everything they have? Can they find happiness? Don’t worry — I won’t spoil it for you. This jaw-dropping original story is so fresh and avant-garde you’ll think it came from outer space.

All right, so to be fair it’s not merely a pile of well-worn clichés. There’s Ben Mendelsohn kicking ass as usual (and his performance in the last shot alone is worthy of plenty of praise), and a few nice character beats here and there. Even the poker scenes aren’t embarrassing, which is quite a feat these days. It’s the kind of movie the ’70s excelled at, but today it’s a watery Bud Light when a shot of Woodford Reserve was called for.

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