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Slick camera work and some good performances rev up the technical
quality of this fact-based story about a 21 year old MIT student named
Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) who, along with his brainy Ivy League
chums, travels to Vegas to win tons of money at the blackjack tables.
Their sleazy math professor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), leads the
group. Rosa has devised an elaborate and conspiratorial card counting
scheme that consists of code words and hand gestures. With all that
preparation, the group's scheme does work ... for a while. And in the
process, the shy, cautious Ben, who only wants the money for tuition
costs, morphs into his alter ego, a person quite unlike his original
The film's pace starts off leisurely, then alternates between fast-paced Vegas casino action and periods of downtime wherein Ben and his girlfriend, fellow conspirator Jill (Kate Bosworth), talk shop and take in the high life. The story does have a villain, but it may not be who you think it is.
The script's dialogue is snappy and hip, and contains minimal tech jargon. "Variable change" is one such math term, and it has thematic implications toward the end, as the story twists and turns in ways that may surprise you. And "winner winner, chicken dinner" is the group's lingo for gambling success.
Production design is realistic and lavish; this is a big budget film. Color cinematography, by DP Russell Carpenter, is polished and slick. There are lots of elaborate camera dissolves and close-ups. The best parts of the film are the close-ups of the characters at the blackjack tables. Film editing coincides with plot pacing, and ranges from slow to super fast. Acting is all-around good. Kevin Spacey gives his usual topnotch acting job; Sturgess and Bosworth also give fine performances.
It's not a perfect film. Background music was noisy and rather nondescript for my taste. And I could have wished for more card playing, and less time spent on Ben's college buddies in the first Act; the result is that the film gets off to a slow start. Still, the script is credible, and stays close to its book source "Bringing Down The House" by Ben Mezrich.
Thematically relevant in today's world of greed and materialism, "21" is a terrific film, one that has greater import than other films, because the events in "21" really happened. And the fine performances and polished visuals enhance the overall look and feel, to create a film that is both engaging and entertaining.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
21 is definitely the major film for the spring time, it has young hot
actors, including an incredible academy award winner, Kevin Spacey, and
another great actor who's head looks like it grew quite a bit bigger,
Lawarence Fishburne. So it has all the key ingredients for a good
movie, a decent plot, over all a good combination of actors, and looks
like a well put together movie. So I saw it this weekend and I have to
say that I was a little disappointed, I think this movie was more for
the teenagers, with the actors and the rating, I think it should've
been more adult. It was a typical rise and fall story with cliché'd
characters. Kevin Spacey, seriously my favorite actor, he's always a
dead on hit with every role he takes on, but he seemed to just sleep
his way through the film and didn't really care about it. He and new
and hot up-comer, Jim Sturgess were not a bad couple on screen, but
were not strong enough to hold the story into something original.
Basically we have Ben Campbell who needs $300,000 for Harvard Med. School, he's extremely gifted with numbers, so when his professor, Micky Rosa notices his gifts, he invites Ben with a group of his other students to go to Vegas and play 21. But there is a way to beat the game apparently, by counting cards. Ben promises up and down that it is just for school, but of course when he gets so hot, he takes it way further and ends up making a huge mistake and gets caught with some nasty security guards you don't wanna mess with.
Now 21 has decent enough acting, the movie itself is decent, I didn't mind at all watching it. For the most part, it's the young group of students that keep the movie interesting and keeps your attention. My main problems are for example about the characters Ben and Jill hooking up, I seriously doubt that would happen for real, but for the movie, they want these two hotties to get together at least for the teenage audience's sake. Also supposedly the group says they have to stay on the down low in Vegas so they don't get caught, yet they go around Vegas buying all these new clothes, clubbing, drinking, etc. 21 is worth the watch, but to be honest, if you're reading this, wait for the rental, it's just a regular rise and fall story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie was based on a true story, and if the makers had stuck
closer to the true story it could have been a much better movie. But
no, they had to Hollywoodize it and dumb it down so that anyone with
the least knowledge of the game of blackjack and how casinos operate
will be saying "No way" to themselves all through the movie. It
actually ends up with a chase scene and characters running through the
kitchen, for God's sake.
In real life the team's success was 90% in being careful to not attract the attention of the casinos detectors and only 10% in their scheme, which was based on the well-known technique of card-counting to get an edge. In the movie, the team's actions were childishly crude even to the point of continually returning to the same casino...so the movie makers could develop the characters of the casino bad guys. In real life the team was careful to not win much at any one table or at any one casino, not more than $1,000 a session, which would be well within the amount any lucky player might win without counting. In the movie they hit the same table for tens of thousands of dollars, which would have set off alarms all over Nevada. Even the hand signals the team used in the movie were childishly obvious. All this by the supposedly brilliant MIT students and professor. No way.
The movie actually had the bad casino guys torturing card counters when they caught them. No way. In real life a casino has the right, tested in court, to kick anyone out and ban them from ever playing again...they do not have to prove cheating or card-counting, they do it under the laws of trespassing on their private property and this is what they do. Remember, card-counters are only making what amounts to an hourly wage, so they are not a serious threat to a casino.
Another example of the Hollywood treatment was that after showing how brilliant Ben was at counting cards when they were recruiting him, he was not used as the card counter, he was used as the big bettor and one of the female team members did the counting.
an entertaining movie for someone not knowledgeable or much interested in real life casino gambling, but dumb and dumber for those who are.
21 is worth seeing on a restless Friday or Saturday night with friends,
but it isn't anything more than that. The film features nice
performances from actors Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne, as well
as nice entries from the lesser known ensemble.
However, it doesn't take a film expert to notice some of the more...awful lines. "That's is impressive software."...come on, seriously? Just bad writing.
And the flow of the plot is painfully cliché, up until the end where things are admittedly pretty unpredictable. The ending was unexpected, but it worked and made up for earlier plot points that were predictable.
"21" is entertaining, that's it. Nothing more, nothing less.
After Reading Ben Mezrich's "Bringing Down the House", upon which this
movie is based, I was excited to the movie. I am usually let down by
movies that are based on books, but that was not the case this time.
Although there were a handful of cliché parts of the movie, all in all it was excellently done. The visual effects were well done, and the acting on the part of Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, was exemplary. Some people may criticize Spacey for his 'gusto', but I believe his portrayal of Mickey was stellar.
The movie had suspense, a solid plot line, scattered funny scenes, and a good ending. The people I went with, none of whom had read the book, found it an even better movie than I did. If you like the movie enough, I recommend reading the book for a more complete story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was intrigued by the preview of 21 because I'm a sucker for films
about gambling, and this is a film about gambling ~ it's the
director/writers gambling with our intelligence, hoping we're
completely devoid of brainpower, which would make us stupid enough to
buy any of the claptrap we see on screen in this bonafide turkey.
The beginning is good, it's only when the true fun should be starting - when Ben starts going to Vegas as part of the blackjack team headed by Micky (Kevin Spacey) - that the movie begins to seriously fall apart.
Vegas is a huge town, with literally hundreds of casinos, but these clowns wind up going back to the SAME casino, over and over, using the SAME signals to one another (their ridiculous signal to indicate a hot table, for instance), until it's more than blatantly obvious to the security overseer, Laurence Fishburne, that these stooges are playing a very dangerous - and stupid - game.
The story then continues on its deathtrail of stupidity, with the storyline and the characters' behavior becoming more and more ridiculous until Ben - duhhhh - loses Everything and has to - double duhhhh - find a way to outsmart Micky (a 2-year-old could outsmart this guy) and get his life back together. The way it's done is even stupider than what proceeds it, what with Ben luring Micky back to the SAME casino for one last shot at the Big Money. "They'll know us there," Micky says, "So we'll have to wear disguises." Oh yeah, genius - a cowboy hat and fake mustache really make Spacey look like a totally different person (not), and even stupider --- they show up using the SAME signals that they've used all along; yes, these giboneys are that dumb.
Then, to insult the audience even further, the writers tack on what they believe, in their deluded states, to be a double surprise ending. By this time, the only surprise is that anyone is still left in the movie theatre.
I was lucky enough to see this film for free at a special screening in greater London as part of a market research by the film industry. even though it was free i would have paid good money to see that film. but I was presently surprised about how good the film was and everyone seemed to agree that the film was really good. I thought it made the card playing parts actually riveting even though i am not a card player myself. i thought the acting performances were all good especially that of Kevin Spacey's. In terms of the story. In many ways it reminded me of all the good things that was in the BBC TV show hustle. But in a much more real way. On the down side, you may see the ending coming and there is a romance part of the film that feels unnecessary. However it is a very slick film that gets away with it. I would say that it clearly the best film in this genre of film. I enjoyed it more than films such as Confidence and the Oceans 11 type films. I would highly recommend it to anybody when it eventually comes out in April!! I would have thought that they would cut down and re-edit it a bit on the basis that it was quite long. however it kept my attention for the whole film and that is not something that is also done during these sorts of films
Considering the risky pleasure generally associated with gambling and
the seductive thrill of watching a heist or scam unfold, it should come
as no surprise that 21, a film which combines the two aforementioned
premises should excel at being enjoyable. And while the film may be
very familiar ground to anyone with in any experience with Ocean's
Eleven style crime capers, and the majority of the film's plot points
verge on being almost laughably predictable, it is executed with enough
exuberant flair to make it worthwhile in the midst of its formula.
A slow start gives the necessary exposition as to how a thoroughly ethical young MIT student (Sturgess)'s desperate need for money to attend Harvard medical school leads him to join a team of mathematical geniuses trained in blackjack card counting who routinely rip off Las Vegas casinos during weekends between class. However, this opening proves overlong, overly predictable, and largely unnecessary, dragging far too much before plunging into the film's real fun as Sturgess and his team are engulfed by the seductive glamour of Vegas and the thrill of the huge monetary takes. Some judicious editing, clearing away such unnecessary subplots (such as a robotics competition with Sturgess' tiresomely stereotypical nerdy friends) could have resulted in a far more streamlined and faster paced film.
Some viewers may take offence to the "Hollywoodizing" of the MIT team, with team members of different ethnicity largely shoved to the background in favour of the typically gorgeous Caucasian leads, a disconcertingly common practice in modern day cinema. However, the flashy MTV style cinematography and editing ably capture the engrossing spectacle of Vegas, and once the film gets going, it would be difficult to deny the sheer enjoyment of being swept up in the heady rush of quick wealth and all of its hedonistic trappings.
The film's quality cast add credulity to the frequently underwritten characters they portray. Jim Sturgess once again impresses as the ethical math prodigy slowly corrupted by a world of superficial glamour, his endearing charm putting an intriguing enough take on the "troubled but well meaning hero" archetype. As one might expect, Kevin Spacey effortlessly steals the show as the charismatic but ruthless professor managing the MIT card counting team, and Spacey's easygoing yet commanding presence is a profound boost to the film. Kate Bosworth contributes a typically flat performance, but given her token 'inevitable love interest' role, she fails to detract much from the film's overall quality. Lawrence Fishburne adds class, much needed dramatic weight and moments of grim humour to his antagonistic burly head of casino security, gradually catching on to the MIT team's scamming.
While the age old adage of 'style over substance' certainly holds true here, 21 may essentially epitomize the modern Hollywood crime caper film, but the formula hasn't quite run dry enough to overly detract from the enjoyment factor. The film's snappy visuals and strong casting are mostly enough to make up for a largely uninspired and frequently weak script. However, fans of similar works will not be disappointed, and for those willing to forgive the film's frequent delving into the wells of convention and accept entertainment over profundity, 21 should prove an ideal watch.
This film screened at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX. It is a reasonable well-made based-on-a-true-story film that tells the story of a group of MIT students who attempt to make a fortune counting cards in Vegas. The screenplay apparently plays pretty fast-and-loose with the version told in the book. Never-the-less, the acting is excellent - especially Jim Sturgess in the role of the lead student. Honestly, his accent was so good that I didn't realize - until he came on stage afterward - that he was British. He does a great job with the mannerisms to give you a real sense of the character's evolution. Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne are solid - although Fishburne's role is fairly small. The minor characters are not as well-developed as they could have been. The cinematography of both Boston and Las Vegas is quite good, especially on the big screen. It's an interesting story, but they could have edited down a bit to make it move a little quicker. This is a good film, but it probably could have been a lot better.
The story of the MIT Blackjack Team is already widely known through a
documentary film (Breaking Vegas) and a bestselling book (Bringing Down
the House). It's a compelling and dramatic story, but evidently the
people behind 21 didn't think it was quite compelling enough. Normally
I dismiss the common complaint that a film "wasn't close enough to the
book," but in this case it's fully justified.
21 follows the familiar Hollywoodization process: grossly oversimplify the original story, then apply a thick layer of cliché. The techniques used by the MIT team are minimally explained in a few rushed, cursory exposition scenes; the assumption seems to be "why waste time on something audiences are too dumb to understand?" The subtlety and complexity of the real team's approach is reduced to a few obvious hand signals and some clunky verbal code. The producers then lard the story with standard, predictable clichés: the needed scholarship that dangles just out of reach; the protagonist's neglected, geeky friends; the cardboard villain who smokes cigarettes and laments that technology is making him obsolete; the widowed mother who sacrifices to help her son attend medical school; etc., etc., etc. Visual clichés also abound; there are endless aerial shots of the Vegas strip ablaze with neon, and the campuses of MIT and Harvard are depicted as shadowy and dungeon-like (one pompous professor actually has a roaring fireplace in his near-dark office). A lame and implausible "twist" ending ties everything into a neat, tidy bow.
Read the book, or catch Breaking Vegas on cable, and discover how thrilling this story really was.
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