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‘Mississippi Grind’ Sundance Reviews: Good Performances, Too Many Endings

'Mississippi Grind' Sundance Reviews: Good Performances, Too Many Endings

It’s been five years since Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s last film (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”), far too long for a pair of filmmakers with such a clear sense of human nature and keen ability to get career-best work from their actors. They’re back at Sundance with “Mississippi Grind,” a gambling movie that’s earned comparisons to New Hollywood gems like Altman’s “California Split” and the original “The Gambler.” From the sound of the reviews, Fleck and Boden have done well by those films, turning out another low-key but entertaining film and managing to get two great performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds. The one problem that’s been almost universally cited though: much like the chronic gamblers at the film’s center, film doesn’t know when to quit, and it drags out across about four different endings that somewhat diminish Fleck and Boden’s achievement.

Justin Chang, Variety

The moody, measured intelligence and exceptional skill with actors long evinced by filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (“Half Nelson,” “Sugar”) once again serves them well in “Mississippi Grind,” a bittersweet, beautifully textured road movie that plays like a conscious throwback to the lost souls and open highways of 1970s American cinema. Read more.

Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian

Writer-director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (“It’s Kind of A Funny Story,” “Half Nelson”) must be applauded for refusing to let their shaggy dog tale line up with any predictable storyline. In this manner it is similar to Robert Altman’s gambling opus “California Split,” and I suspect that one shot utilising a slow zoom is in direct homage. But “Mississippi Grind” can stand along other great films of deadbeat losers who live on hunches such as John Huston’s “Fat City” or Jules Dassin’s “Night and the City.” But the overheard street wisdom from fellow reprobates at the dog track are no nostalgia act, failure is timeless. Read more.

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

Ironically, Fleck and Boden’s biggest problem is not knowing when to fold. “Mississippi Grind” features about four endings devoted to the themes of chance, kismet, and coincidence, each dragging on and further sapping the movie of its vitality. The movie’s relatively “happy” ending, if we can call it that, also feels a little antithetical to a story about men who live to lose. A more honest approach — something the filmmakers seem keen to explore through most of the film — might not have been as crowd pleasing, but perhaps would have been much more true to their characters. Read more.

Jordan Raup, The Film Stage

As the two progress to their eventual goal — which has an intriguing twist featuring James Toback  (clearly a winking nod), but results in character turns that don’t feel entirely founded — the finale soon becomes laborious with one too many endings. Ultimately, “Mississippi Grind” provides a venerable acting showcase to a pair of under-appreciated actors, but could have used more impetus in its execution. Read more.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

That subdued air of melancholy, along with a gentle strain of humor, runs through the film much like the river that shapes the two men’s journey as they head from Iowa, via multiple gambling stops, to a $25,000-stake high-roller poker game in New Orleans. And while the tone is relaxed and playful, the underlying sadness comes through, perhaps most poignantly in Reynolds’ Curtis, in moments when his effortless charisma and unflappable confidence don’t quite hide the needling glimmers of self-frustration or loneliness. It’s hard to remember this ridiculously handsome actor’s talents being put to more effective use. Read more.

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