Gerry knows and acknowledges that he is "not a good person" and has "problems with money" and yet is unable to go against a well-worn grain. Balancing the knife edge of desperate optimism and just plain desperation the Australian's performance is difficult to behold and yet continually engaging. Whether Curtis, who his partner in crime sees as a “big, handsome leprechaun” and lucky charm, is any more in the wrong for facilitating Gerry's behaviour is a question for debate. Reynolds' dark puppy dogs, sunken and weary, belie an unspoken underbelly of hurt and past disappointment. Allusions to a troubled upbringing, a momentary visit to a nightclub singing mother and a continual desire to run away to Machu Picchu to escape it all, point towards a man forever drifting from nowhere to nowhere. As in previous roles, Reynolds' particular strength is in subtle but superb comic timing and delivery. There's a lot more to his character than meets the eye but he plays personal cards very close to his chest.
However strong the film's pocket rockets may be, it is a shame that other members of a gifted cast are relegated to cameos. Simone and fellow lady of the night, Vanessa (Analeigh Tipton), appear for one chapter of the story and are then forgotten. Alfre Woodard, whose eyes are truly captivating, makes an equally brief appearance acting as go-between from Gerry to his debtors and is then not seen again. Like the river it follows, the course of the narrative only flows in one direction but unfortunately a lot of baggage is left along the way. With so much invested in getting from A to B, the filmmakers also seem uncertain in what to do when they reached its end point; the conclusion feeling a little cobbled together. While Mississippi Grind may not do anything new or improved with the familiar tropes of former road and buddy movies it's good to go along for the ride. The narrative saunters with the melancholia of a smart delta blues score towards the end of the rainbow; it's just a shame that you won't find a pot of gold over the horizon.
The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from 10-20 September 2015. For more coverage, follow this link.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens