Sunday, March 14, 2010

Archive: '21'

Movie Review
21 (2008)

Even after watching an entire movie about counting cards in blackjack, I'm still confused on how the whole system works. What I am sure of, however, is that the movie "21," which is about this whole counting business, certainly works. It’s a kick to watch, and odds are audiences will be pleased. It's loosely based on Ben Mezrich's novel "Bringing Down the House," and it tells the true life story of how an MIT student joined a group of other gambling colleagues from school to win some bundles of cash from casinos in Las Vegas. School on the weekdays, gambling on the weekends.

The elaborate system used by these students involves assigning different numbers to tables depending on how many high or low cards have been dealt. There are certain team members called spotters who sit at the tables and signal the designated big players to come over when the table gets hot. The movie takes this system and simplifies it down into an appealing and exciting movie experience. And at the center of it all is Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), the very intelligent and innocent student who gets hand-picked by his math professor, Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), to join the elite team of card counters. Ben is timid, shy, passive, hangs out with a couple other geeks who are building a robot in a science competition, and they all have collectively given up on girls being interested in them. But when Ben sits down at the blackjack table, he transforms, and that's when his brainy reserve does wonders for him in negotiating risk and just doing the simple math to win big.

And the timing for Ben couldn't be any better as he needs $300,000 to get into Harvard Medical, and going to Vegas is his means to an end, or so he says. Things start off easy enough for the team with their fake names and disguises, but soon enough, the money starts to get the best of them. Now, this fact is already apparent through any trailers for this movie, so there's no point in bashing the predictable standard-issue plot mechanics that follow here. There is still a lot of other neat and clever stuff going on throughout, especially within the character of Ben himself. Sturgess, who is most known for his role in "Across the Universe," is as likable as ever, this time ditching his accent and delivering a strong and believable performance. His face is readable and we get all of his emotions through the tension, fear, anxiety, desire, and excitement of the entire Vegas deal.

While becoming distracted by his winnings, he also becomes distracted with a fellow counter, Jill (Kate Bosworth), the sexy girl from school who he could never before imagine himself with. And yet here she is now interested in him and played with a sly ice princess attraction by the slinky Bosworth whose role is just the right amount. She's there but but never too overbearing, and she keeps things sizzling. Kevin Spacey is good, too, returning as his familiar sarcastic and biting self. He oozes a certain charismatic and amused attitude and yet is a shark at the same time with an anger that erupts during a turning point in a confrontation with Ben.

Counting cards is completely legal, and yet the casinos keep a close eye out for it, never allowing anybody to win them out of business. The looming Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) is an intimidating casino head who gets the idea that there’s card counting going on, and he’s certainly a person the team members don't want to come in contact with. Here's a guy who, if he catches anybody card counting, will not only kick the person out but break their face while he's at it. The sticky part is that counting cards isn't necessarily just a way of cheating but also a true skill. And so, Ben and his teammates play strictly by the rules and yet are lying while doing so.

Despite the movie's obvious issues in terms of stretching believability, it never skimps on its sole responsibility to entertain. Sure, the climax shatters any lasting credibility the movie might've had, but it's also surefire entertainment. With "21," director Robert Luketic has exaggerated the story from which the movie is inspired just enough to keep us enthralled and even though we may know how most of it all turns out, there are enough twists and turns to keep it intriguing enough to make the ride worth watching. Most of all, too, this thriller has such a sharp and stylish look to it and has been brought together in such a slickly made package that it simply makes for a nice little piece of escapism.

No comments:

Post a Comment