Loosely based on a true story, here we have a math hotshot who finds himself in peril after getting into the business of card-counting in Las Vegas. A surprise hit earlier this year, 21 took audiences on a ride that they’d never forget, both due to just how cool it was (imagine living this kid’s life at exactly this moment), and just how well polished the movie was. Sure, it’s not the perfect movie by any means, but, regardless, it’s a movie that stays with you, that exhilarates you for a reason. And what’s that reason? Well, as usual, I’ll fill you in after the synopsis.
Inspired by the true story of MIT students who mastered the art of card counting
and took Vegas casinos for millions in winnings. Looking for a way to pay for tuition, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) finds himself quietly recruited by MIT’s most gifted students in a daring plot to break Vegas. With the help of a brilliant statistics professor (Kevin Spacey) and armed with fake IDs, intelligence and a complicated system of counting cards, Ben and his friends succeed in breaking the impenetrable casinos. Now, his challenge is keeping the numbers straight and staying one step ahead of the casinos before it all spirals out of control.
I have to admit that the story is actually pretty incredible, both of them. Both the Hollywood version we get here in 21, which does have the odd problem, and the story this is based upon. There’s a lot of changes made to make the movie more thrilling, but, any way you slice it, it’s an excellent story and a great ride. This is due to the solid pace and directing and the fine acting across the board. I find it encouraging that a relatively small movie like this can still not top the box office for two weeks, but make upwards of $80 million dollars in the short amount of time it had before the summer season kicked in. That just shows the real appeal and pull this movie had over audiences earlier this year, despite the relatively lackluster response from critics
Credit is due, definitely, to the superb acting of Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne, and even Kate Bosworth. All of them manage to play their roles effectively, particularly Spacey who, in the span of the movie, does a complete change in character and, toward the end, you definitely start thinking differently about just who this guy is. Sturgess does an admirable job as our protagonist, trying to find a way to earn money and coming onto an elite group of card players in the school. As his character descends deeper into the depth of greed, Sturgess does really amps up his performance and makes both his descent and rescue toward the end of the movie believable. Bosworth shows off her beautiful smile and Fishburne gets aggressive, both playing well in the rolls assigned to them.
And, like I said, the movie is fun, especially for the first hour where’s it’s just so cool and casual, so much so that it’s impossible to resist. However, an abundance of twists and turns do start popping into the movie, resulting in the film getting a big bogged down by itself. The movie does drag a little bit after the first hour, but it manages to collect itself toward the end for the last big caper the crew pulls off, the people who join Sturgess’ character in the final. And, personally, I couldn’t help but smile just as the final scene from the movie, the one before the end credits pop onto the screen, and how cute (which is likely the worst word to describe it) of a send-off it is. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it manages to recoup itself before the end.
It’s a fun movie that does drag itself down a bit by melodrama, and it’s a shame to think of the interesting character study that could have come out of this flick, but I still think that 21 comes Recommended.
The one-disc release of 21 arrives in a standard Amaray case with no extra bells and whistles save for an advertorial insert. The menu for the release is simple, as can be expected, and the audio and video and sharp for a standard DVD release from Sony. Please note that Sony Home Entertainment has also released a two-disc special edition of this film with the only major difference being a digital copy of the film on the second disc. Personally, I’m glad to see the major companies including digital copies of their films on these DVD releases. It’s a great deterrent for piracy and I hope it’s something that becomes the norm. While the companies need to figure out exactly how to market these digital copies, and how to present them on discs, Sony does a fine job here.
The extras for this one disc release include a commentary by director Robert Luketic and producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, running through the history of the project. After that we get a “21: The Advantage Player” featurette, where we get a look at the cast and the game of Blackjack. “Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal” is a 24-minute behind-the-scenes documentary covering the production of the movie from script to shoot. We wrap up the extras with a tour of the production design of the movie. A fairly standard collection of extras for those enthused by the movie.
Overall, I would have to say that I enjoyed this movie, even if the twists later on in the film, which I won’t spoil here, bogged it down a bit. I would definitely give 21 a Recommended rating, without hesitation. It’s a fun, zippy movie that moves along fast, looks sleek, and has fun. It’s only when the movie tries to throw in some twists and some drama does it stumble a bit and, eventually, falls apart, before managing to collect itself up for a nice, snappy ending. It’s a fun ride, that’s for sure, and one that’s definitely worth checking out. If you opt to purchase this film, unless you want the digital copy, the one-disc release should do.
21 arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray July 22nd.