The 2008 film 21 is based on the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team. Directed by Robert Luketic and starring Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishbourne, Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth, the film received mixed reviews. However, in the eyes of many, especially those who enjoy the casino genre, the negative reviews were unduly harsh.
The film centres around Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) maths senior Ben Campbell (Sturgess), who has just been accepted into Harvard Medical School, but unsurprisingly cannot afford the $300,000 fee.
Welcome the brilliant Kevin Spacey, who plays MIT professor Micky Rosa, a teacher of Ben’s. After seeing his student solve the Monty Hall problem as well as scoring 97% on his previous test, Rosa invites Ben to join his blackjack team. Enticed by the prospect of huge winnings, which in turn would finance med school, Ben accepts Rosa’s offer.
Rosa introduces his protégé to the rest of the team and teaches him their card counting system. A quick word to the wise: card counting is not illegal but if caught you can be punished. It is far safer and less risky to learn strategies instead regarding how to play in an online casino school.
The intricate system in the film involves “spotters” who play small but keep the count and the “big players” who are signalled over by the “spotters” to a hot table. Things start out well for the team with numerous winning weekends in Vegas and romance starts to blossom between Ben and Jill Taylor (Bosworth).
The team start winning big and start to grow accustomed to their glamorous lifestyle, but as we know all good things must come to an end and this is what happens in spectacular fashion in 21; Ben’s life starts to unravel in front of his eyes and he faces a fight to preserve it.
So, there is the basic premise. You don’t want much more detail otherwise the film would be ruined. In terms of realism, the blackjack scenes in the Vegas hotels are very believable and overall very pulsating. They also work wonders in terms of heightening tension whenever the team seem in danger of being exposed.
As is to be expected, Kevin Spacey is at his cerebral best. He is sinister and very compelling, making him perfect for this divisive role.
Spacey is perfect at polarising people; he shouldn’t be liked but his character is hard not to sympathise with. As for Fishbourne, his screen time is limited but when he does appear he immediately grabs your attention. His character as the Vegas chief of security is portrayed smartly. Although he is the good guy you don’t particularly like him. Young Jim Sturgess also does well to hold his own in a film that contains such acting pedigree.
However, the romance between Ben and Jill is weak and not really needed in the film as a whole. People want to watch blackjack, not a whimsical but albeit lacklustre romance. Granted, you can’t really make a film in Hollywood without having to acquiesce to a love-story, but it would have been cool if Luketic had opted to go without one.
There is little to no mention of any romantic overtures in the book and this should have carried over into the film. All in all, 21 is a high-octane affair that does grip the audience, and with plenty of Spacey on show it’s hard not like. If you like the genre, or just action films in general, then 21 should be a must watch.