21 (2008)

Posted by prla1983 on August 04, 2008 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

Every now and then comes up a movie that is far from a masterpiece but feels immensely satisfying to me. Robert Luketic's "21" is a prime example of that and although I admit I've always liked every sort of card games and gambling, there's so much more than that in here.

And also so much less, as this story arc is something that has been done to death in films of all types and genres. Humble guy finds a way to get big, changes himself along the way without even noticing, gets greedy, ignores friends, loses control and incidentally loses everything. Oh, he gets the girl, too, of course. Without giving too much away, that's exactly what happens in 21, with a couple of, shall we say interesting, twists. This is a tale based upon the real life mid 90's MIT Blackjack Team which had a conceptually simple principle when it came to playing this card game, known as card counting. Wikipedia describes it in a clearer way than I could ever hope for:

The principle behind counting cards in blackjack is that a deck of cards with a high proportion of high cards (ten-valued cards and aces) to low cards is good for the player, while the reverse (a deck with a high proportion of low cards to high cards) is good for the dealer. A deck rich in tens and aces improves the player's odds because blackjacks (which offer a higher payout than other winning hands) become more common, the dealer is more likely to bust a stiff hand, and double-downs are more successful.

Think "Ocean's Eleven" meets "A Beautiful Mind". Kevin Spacey (in yet another brilliant performance with a boatload of memorable quotes) leads the secret team that meets at night in obscurity in one of MIT's classrooms. They soon go to Vegas to "make a killing", meaning using the card counting scheme to score a lot of money. Of course everything goes right until it goes wrong. Ben Campbell is the smartest kid on the block, recruited by his Nonlinear Equations teacher, Prof. Micky Rosa (Spacey) to join the team. Well, it wasn't hard, as Ben needs about 300,000 grand to get into Harvard Med without the need of the only scholarship that's very doubtful he'll be offered.

I won't unveil more, because the thrill is in the twists and turns of what they do. Most of all it's in the intensity of Ben's relatioship with Micky and how it sours going from point A to point B. Their scenes in the classroom both pre and post the happenings in Vegas are unique, full of sharp and witty dialogue. In the end, the message is that if you want it all, there's a big chance you lose it all. 21 delivers that message with a little poetic, zero-sum type justice served at the end.

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