PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Two wildly different strangers with a shared and debilitating love of rainbows and poker take a high stakes gambling road trip from Dubuque, Iowa to New Orleans in "Mississippi Grind," a deft, entertaining and messy look at depression, addiction and the highs of winning that premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival.
Ryan Reynolds co-stars as a slick drifter who's always ready with charming, perfectly rehearsed story or joke. The other party in question doesn't even seem to exist in the same universe as Reynolds' Curtis. Gerry, played by Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, is an empty shell of man who slumps through life in dumpy trousers listening only to Joe Navarro books on tape.
The two meet on a lark and immediately take to one another, and it's not just the enabling that keeps them on a shared path of self-destruction. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck ("Half Nelson") keep the motives and backstories of their leads ambiguous for most of the film, which laces every moment with tension and suspicion.
While the mystery is compelling at the start, nothing is spoon-fed to the audience, which leads to a few scenes that just don't track at all.
In the Q&A an audience member asked the directors to explain one. Fleck joked that he didn't know what she was talking about since he wasn't there that day and moved on, eliciting some groans from audience members expecting a more thoughtful answer.
The beautifully shot "Mississippi Grind" isn't concerned with answers, though, which could be infuriating for some, but the charm of the film rests in the hands of its tragic but intoxicating leads — not dissimilar to the allure of gambling.
Lindsey Bahr, www.twitter.com/ldbahr