Film Review: 21

About 21 (2008)
21Slick casino scam tale based on Ben Mezrich’s book ‘Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions’. Brilliant M.I.T. student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) has got money worries, if he doesn’t come up with $300,000 he’s going to be kicked out. Luckily for Ben, help is at hand in the shape of maths professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), who has formed a team of students capable of taking on the casinos of Las Vegas and beating them at blackjack, using a technique known as card counting. But as the team start to win, and win big, the glitzy lifestyle soon starts to ensnare Ben, and he begins to believe he’s untouchable. With the team attracting the attention of casino security chief Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne), it’s not long before the stakes are raised to dangerous levels.

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira

Directed by: Robert Luketic

Runtime: 123 minutes

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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Review: 21

The dangerous world of gambling is the setting for Robert Luketic’s drama. Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and earns the chance of a place at Harvard Medical School but cannot afford the $300,000 fee. His scores are great but there is competition for a Robinson Scholarship that would cover the fees for all of his schooling. Meeting with the director, Ben is told an individual with the best story will get the place. What does Ben have to offer in terms of life experience? Well, quite a lot as it turns out.

At MIT Ben wins the admiration of professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) who invites him to join his blackjack team, a select group of students that head to Las Vegas at weekends and win big money. The group is made up of Choi (Aaron Yoo), Fisher (Jacob Pitts), Jill (Kate Bosworth), and Kianna (Liza Lapira). Ben initially refuses to join the team but Jill persuades him and given Ben’s attraction towards her he is soon heading for Las Vegas, but only long enough to earn the fees for Harvard. Micky divides his team up having one group hit the casino tables and play minimum bets, signalling for the best tables. It is at this point that the rest of the team step in and bet big money. The team use a system of card counting and Ben is soon astonished how easy it is to win big. However, his skill at the game incites the jealousy of Fisher and for every trip they make to Vegas the more the harmony of the group is threatened. The presence of the vigilant security chief Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) also puts the group in the spotlight. Can Ben earn enough for Harvard? Can he stop gambling? Will he and Rosa end up together?

The tense world of gambling is conveyed well here with Ben having to play high stakes at the casino tables but his ultra quick mind and excellent memory see him become the rising star in the group. Inevitably, the wheels begin to come off the venture and Ben soon finds himself alone with the stakes stacked heavily against him. Sturgess is good in the lead and the rest of the blackjack team are a varied and interesting bunch, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Fishburne does well as the menacing Williams but it is Spacey once again who effortlessly steals the film as the head of the blackjack team that sends his students into the fray but does not gamble himself for interesting reasons.

21 is a solid gambling drama about playing the system and evading the watchful eyes of the casino security. There are some good twists and turns along the way as Ben soon realises he has bitten off more than he can chew. The conclusion may be somewhat predictable but it remains a satisfying denouement and rounds off the overall narrative very well.

Verdict: 4/5

(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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