The “Best Sports Sports Betting Scenes in Television and Movies” series returns with a look at the ramblin’, gamblin’ road-trip flick, Mississippi Grind. Spoilers abound.
Released not long before Deadpool vaulted Ryan Reynolds into another stratosphere of stardom, Mississippi Grind stars the Canadian heartthrob as Curtis, a charismatic drifter who bumps into a sad-sack realtor named Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) at a poker table in an Iowa casino. The two men lock eyes and smile, their mutual attraction evident from the first glance.
A cocktail waitress asks the table if anyone would like a drink. Gerry says he’d like a bourbon — “the cheap stuff.” Reynolds orders a Woodford and says he’ll buy Gerry one, too, despite it being considerably higher-end. Having run out of Woodford, the waitress brings them a pair of Bulleits instead, their infatuation sealed by a pair of glass tumblers.
Mississippi Grind is not a rom-com in the traditional sense. Similar to Sideways or Rain Man, it boasts a surplus of platonic, same-sex tenderness, and an obsession with games of chance is the tie that binds.
No type of gambling is off-limits in Mississippi Grind, all the way down to Curtis walking up to an outdoor basketball court in New Orleans and betting $100 that he can beat the best of a group of young Black men in a game of one-on-one.
A rung above that is a wonderful scene, presumably shot at the Iowa Greyhound Park in Dubuque, where Gerry makes a bet on a dog to place. It wins the race. He cashes the place bet, of course, but is upset, in retrospect, that he didn’t also wager on the dog to win.
Curtis tries to get Gerry to leave the track and enjoy a night of carousing, saying, “It don’t get any better than this.” Degenerate that he is, Gerry gambles on a chance to stay, telling Curtis, “Next guy that comes out of the bathroom is wearing glasses, we stay.”
The guy cinching his belt on the way out of the can is wearing spectacles, and Gerry proceeds to piss away his winnings.
A bettor who doesn’t know any better
Back downtown in a dark bar, Gerry asks his “lucky charm,” Curtis, to “go down the Mississippi” River with him and “hit up all the action along the way … home games, gambling towns.” He also asks Curtis to stake him $500, admitting he owes a bunch of people money due to his recent run of bad luck.
Curtis agrees to stake Gerry $2,000, and the pair head south in the latter’s Subaru hatchback.
After much Americana and the inevitable encounter with some gold-hearted hookers, Curtis and Gerry wind up at Fair Grounds Park in the heart of New Orleans with a duffel bag full of cash. Curtis wants to play it safe and bet the favorite, a horse named Mississippi Grind, while Gerry is hellbent on backing a longer shot, Toto’s Revenge. Curtis ultimately agrees to bet on Toto’s Revenge — or so he says.
The scene that ensues is one that will look familiar to anyone who’s ever visited a thoroughbred racetrack on a weekday afternoon, when the grandstand is absent the sort of pomp and circumstance that would accompany a more lucrative stakes race. As the race begins, Gerry rises from his seat, alternating his gaze from the track to a television set showing the same race. He’s smacking his program in his hand as he loudly implores his horse to hold on to an early lead.
You know where this is going: In the stretch, Toto’s Revenge is collared by Mississippi Grind. At this point, Curtis whips out a hundred-dollar bill, hands it to Gerry, tells him to buy a bus ticket home, and says, “It had to end this way.”
Unless, of course, it didn’t.
Rolling the dice on love
After Gerry storms out of the track, his rollaway suitcase crashing down the grandstand stairs, Curtis heads to a betting window and cashes a ticket worth upward of $5,000. It turns out he’d placed a big bet on Mississippi Grind without telling Curtis, and the duffel bag is replenished.
Predictably, Gerry doesn’t head to the bus station. Neither does Curtis. Left to their own devices, they continue gambling, and both get punched in the face.
By chance, they reunite at a poker table at a Louisiana casino. His lucky charm by his side, Gerry orders a pair of Woodfords — and catches a major heater. Up some $250,000 at a craps table, Gerry decides to bet it all on a single roll. After some initial trepidation, Curtis replies, “I’m not afraid.”
If that’s not love, what is?