How Ryan Reynolds Evolved With Mississippi Grind - VRGyani News and Media

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Friday, August 13, 2021

How Ryan Reynolds Evolved With Mississippi Grind

When Ryan Reynolds landed his biggest hit yet in 2016 with Deadpool, it wasn’t just the role he was born to play, but the role he had been playing. Reynolds is note-perfect when cast as cheeky, fast talking characters, but he hadn’t quite refined the edges of his persona in terrible star vehicles like Green Lantern, Safehouse, R.I.P.D., and Self/less. Reynolds’s solo film as mercenary Wade Wilson allowed him to capitalize on the type of performance he had been delivering in weaker material, and he brought a similarly cheeky, fast-talking quality to The Hitman’s Bodyguard films and this weekend’s Free Guy.

However, Reynolds’s signature personality isn’t reserved for tentpole action films and studio comedies, as he delivered one of his most mature performances to date a full year before Deadpool. Without sacrificing his unique star appeal, Reynolds subtly evolved his performances to fit more dramatic material paired alongside Ben Mendelsohn in 2015's Mississippi Grind. The A24 two-hander grounded the “Ryan Reynolds-esque” character in reality and forced the character to face the consequences of a breezy, carefree attitude.

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The film follows two struggling card sharks on opposite sides of success. Gerry (Mendelsohn) can’t seem to catch a break, as his addiction to gambling has shattered his relationship with his ex-wife Dorothy (Robin Weigert) and their young daughter Wendy. Curtis (Reynolds) has a much different problem; he’s successfully sustained himself with winnings from the tables, but he’s isolated and unable to commit to another person, or even a permanent home. Gerry seeks to return to a life he’s been spurned from, but Curtis hasn’t figured out what any of his victories are actually leading to.

The conceit that Curtis’s upbeat attitude masks his insecurities is a brilliant subversion of Reynold’s charm. While a film like Deadpool allowed Reynolds to act out a tragic backstory, Mississippi Grind begins from Gerry’s perspective, with Curtis introduced with mesmerizing confidence in stark contrast with Mendelsohn’s downbeat failings. This makes Reynold’s performance challenging; he has to slowly generate empathy despite seemingly having everything that Gerry desires.

The performances by Reynolds and Mendelsohn, as well as the stellar writing from Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, elevate moments that should feel like cliches. Upon their first encounter, Gerry and Curtis have a moment to bond over drinks and reveal their respective situations. A casual bar conversation is a fairly standard means of delivering exposition, but it’s perfect for these characters’ lifestyle. After a night of being performative while playing cards, they take a chance opening up to someone they feel might share their situation.

Curtis’s snarkiness hides his inherent kindness, and he connects with Gerry and buys him a drink when it’s clear that he’s struggling. There’s no obvious reason for Curtis and Gerry to team up for an extended gambling trip across the Mississippi River, as all their connections come from Curtis, including the final poker tournament in New Orleans. Yet Curtis has never had a partner, and seeing Gerry’s failings keeps him grounded.

Curtis’s empathy makes Gerry’s destructive tendencies more crushing. Although he’s implied a depleted relationship with his family, Curtis doesn’t realize the extent of Gerry’s issues until he discovers he’s already gambled away the money they’ve earned together. Reynolds shows his destructive side; Curtis leaves Gerry at the mercy of a band of thugs, casting him aside like he would any other botched scheme. Gerry has referred to Curtis with the nickname “my good luck charm” since their initial encounter, and although at first Curtis seems to dismiss it, Reynolds shows that he’s actually touched by the silly moniker when Gerry uses it in his apology. Reynolds is frequently sarcastic, so seeing him soften up makes the sequence more powerful.

Reynolds wears this specific persona so well that he nails the more opaque aspects of Curtis’s personality. When Curtis goes to visit his mother, a performer at a local bar, it’s unclear if he’s leaving her his winnings out of guilt or if he just didn’t want to keep them for himself. There’s not many hints as to how their relationship stands; Reynolds is able to mask his feelings with a winning smile no matter what, and it's unclear if the familial visit is actually uplifting for Curtis. Known for his ability to deliver one-liners, Reynolds is equally effective wordlessly playing an ambiguous moment.

Reynolds even gets to evolve his one-liners throughout Mississippi Grind, as after his initial team up with Gerry he references that he’s going on “Machu Picchu Time” whenever he plans to leave a game. It’s a fun running joke that allows him to pass along clues to Gerry as they attempt to communicate during games without alerting other players, but it's interesting to see Curtis lean into a more sincere delivery of his catchphrase. When the two inevitably split during the film’s conclusion, Curtis simply leaves a note that reads “Machu Picchu Time” to Gerry before prompting a hotel clerk to join him on an overseas trip. It indicates that Curtis is finally taking himself seriously and that he’s found a more constructive path forward, it's just not with Gerry.

Reynolds demonstrates his range as a performer just as Curtis matures as a character, even through his subtle reactions. Curtis’s early wins conclude with overblown celebrations in which he teases other players, acting as if each victory is a culmination. However, the film’s climactic final game results in a more subdued response in which Curtis and Gerry simply have a frank conversation. It signifies a changed man who now feels pride in his partner, a feeling he’s never experienced before.

Mississippi Grind owes a lot to the Robert Altman classic California Split, but Mendelsohn and Reynolds re-energize the buddy gambling film by subverting the types of performances they’re best known for. Despite his extensive indie film career, Mendelsohn is known by many as the fearsome antagonist of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Ready Player One, or Bloodline and slips into a more sympathetic role, but Reynolds had a more challenging task in front of him. Reynolds isn’t asking the viewer to shed their perceptions about him by “playing against type,” but grounds his trademark type of role within reality.

KEEP READING: Ryan Reynolds Gives ‘Deadpool 3’ Script Update, Says There’s Probably a 70% Chance It Starts Filming Next Year



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