Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) has seen his share of hard luck, being a man who gets by with no hope jobs to fund his gambling addiction, and the further he spirals into the games of cards that end with him waking up with a hangover and considerably lighter in the wallet, the more he hangs onto his dubious lifestyle as the only thing he has in life to give him a reason to get up in the mornings. Or afternoons. He is a divorced father of one, a little girl he hasn't seen since she was a baby, and it's getting bleaker and bleaker for him until one night he is playing poker and a charismatic man appears at the table, introducing himself as Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) who buys Gerry a drink: this man may change his life.
That said, you are set to wondering if an addict can ever change their ways by movies which take gambling as their subject, and Mississippi Grind was no different, being one of many American movies concerned with what the promise of one more stake could do to transform the characters' bank accounts, no matter how faint that promise could be. The trouble with these efforts was their tendency to make something glamorous out of some very hard luck stories indeed, simply by placing them on the big screen and getting film stars to act them out, and with Curtis the filmmakers could be accused of committing that cinematic crime, not to mention being far from the first to tread that path.
Those filmmakers were Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who had enjoyed an indie success with Half Nelson, one of Ryan Gosling's breakthrough works, and here were continuing their interest with the less successful lives of certain Americans, so you could argue they were breaking no new ground here, especially as their plot and indeed mood was deliberately reminiscent of Robert Altman's California Split which for many gamblers was the best of the lot. Still, if you're going to imitate a past benchmark, then there were a lot worse they could have done than be inspired by that one, and it was not as if this was a straightforward remake by any means, with Curtis in particular a curious figure.
He is described as a "leprechaun" at one point, and he does appear to be some form of lucky charm for Gerry who buoyed by this new pal is hitting a winning streak, no matter how modest, though this seems dependent on how far he is able to follow Curtis's advice. Reynolds was patently trading on his accustomed wiseacre movie star persona, which though he was not the director’s first choice proved to be very intelligent casting what with his character needing that sparkle about him to make it more convincing that Gerry would be dazzled by his attention and not simply reject him as a facile joker who was probably on the make anyway. But Curtis is on the make, of course, and you can tell deep down Gerry knows that but is not about to admit it to himself as it would disrupt his strain of magical thinking.
Every so often the loser will latch onto a sign from above that his luck is about to turn, and there is a point when Curtis agrees to go along with that when Gerry's misfortune affects him as well, afflicting him with his bad vibes that prove this lucky feller may be as human as the rest of us. They go on a road trip of sorts to various gambling spots, some more obvious than others, as Gerry insists on visiting his ex (Robin Weigert), mostly so he can rob her, and he cannot even do that properly, all to feed the addiction. But Curtis has love in his life too, Simone (Sienna Miller), though he treats her as someone to be manipulated, but as the story draws on he twigs that she could bring meaning to his life that an endless stream of cards and dice could not. The ambiguous ending could be controversial depending on how you believed it was going, and it could be accused of painting an unrealistic conclusion after all that studied realism of the average compulsive gambler's days and nights, but in that way you could opt for the resolution that suited your opinion after a derivative but very well presented and performed (some nice one or two scene wonders here) hard luck tale. Music by Scott Bomar.