A rare gambling film where winning is portrayed a kind of losing (insofar as we're all losers anyways), 'MG' could be understood as something radical if it wasn't for its totally bland, touristic style of filmmaking (St. Louis here, New Orleans there, yawn yawn yawn). It's a bit of a waste of Ben Mendelsohn, who here plays a version of Bloodline's Danny if Danny wasn't just down on his luck but utterly pathetic.
A film that really reminds us how much can be done with so little; a film predicated upon its two leading characters, their dichotomous personalities, the way they both need and don't need each other, function in their downtrodden situation, and embrace it in different ways. A movie that shows off the basics in a bold way.
The script written by the co-directors gives in to cliché and easy plotting far too often to be very effective. That is a total shame because the core performances could have elevated this to something truly special otherwise. Ben Mendelsohn is cast perfectly as the compulsive beaten gambler still looking for that one win that will change everything and Ryan Reynolds is effective here as well. Nothing special.
The thing about Boden & Fleck is that they take clichés and they don't even bother to transcend them – they just make films warm enough to live in. GRIND was by-the-numbers and yet, just like with HALF NELSON, I was there the whole time. The miraculous performances by Mendelsohn and Reynolds help, but this is what B&F do: they're craftspeople. They made a solid, satisfying piece of storytelling.
If you need any more proof that there is a hole at the heart of the human experience, look no further than what people are up to in the most developed countries in the world. No amount of living will come close to the satisfaction some get from the roll of the dice or flip of the card. Betting on something arbitrary might be enough to convince us there is some meaning to our sadness after all.
This isn't the first time a film tries to pay homage to the New Hollywood cinema of the 70s, nor the first to try to explore the inherent darkness in the pursuit of the American Dream, but it's certainly one of the most successful in both counts. Exquisite craftmanship meets a painful, bruised humanity, brought to life by one of the best ensembles of the year. Mendelsohn is miraculous.