By Nathan Peterson
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fashburne, Kate Bosworth
As a man who, aside from the odd sports bet, isn’t really into gambling, I am fascinated by movies on the subject. I think alot of it comes down to how the film makers are often able to create scenes of tension, without the need for large grandiose action sequences. In a way, the more intimate environment adds to the drama.
I recently had a chance to revisit 21, the 2008 movie based on the true story of six MIT students who, under the tutelage of one of their teachers, devised a method of card-counting that allowed them to “beat” the blackjack tables in Las Vegas.
The film is largely seen from the point of view of Ben (Sturgess), an MIT graduate who is accepted into Harvard Medical, but doesn’t have the necessary funds to pay for his degree, somewhere around $300,000. His obviously brilliant mind is seen by Professor Rosa (Spacey) as the missing link in his blackjack group, and Ben is soon recruited. It becomes clear that Ben’s talent is head and shoulders above his colleagues, and what follows is his emotional journey as he both wins and loses everything (not just financially).
After a second viewing of this film, I still find it an interesting story, made even more intriguing given it is based on true events. The original book on which the story is based, Bringing Down The House, has now made it onto my list of books to read, as I am wondering how closely the events are followed in the movie.
As for the film itself, the performances are pretty strong, with Sturgess standing out as the humble Ben Campbell who is corrupted by the double life he now leads. The money and power he is now surrounded by on his weekends naturally takes its toll, and as we all know, some people just can’t handle Vegas.
Whilst Spacey’s brilliant but greedy Professor won’t be considered his finest work, he still manages to put in a solid and believable performance. He is allowed to show off the sweet and sour sides of his personality, but I always find him more interesting when he is playing the bad guy.
Bosworth and the rest of the team play their parts well, without necessarily excelling, although Aaron Yoo does manage to steal almost every scene he is in.
Robert Luketic’s directing and David Sardy’s music also do everything they need to do without necessarily standing out as exceptional. By no means am I criticising either, however I cannot say that they did anything to draw me in more, and simply managed to tick off the boxes.
Overall 21 is an entertaining film that, although will never be considered a classic, is a fun addition to the growing list of gambling films. Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!
Rating: 14 out of 21 (or 3.5 out of 5)