Directed by: Robert Luketic
Premise: Ben, a mathematically gifted MIT student (Jim Sturgess) with financial troubles, gets involved with a group of other students who coordinate plays at the blackjack tables in Las Vegas casinos. As his financial situation improves, Ben finds that success changes him and his relationships with his friends.
What Works: 21 is a well assembled picture. The cinematography is gorgeous and the film finds new ways of shooting casinos and the Las Vegas strip that differentiate the film from other Sin City pictures like Oceans 11. The cold mathematics of the film are brought to life through smart cinematic choices in the shooting and editing, and watching these college students play cards becomes as stimulating and as dynamic as a car chase. The story smartly sets up the training, establishing clues and procedures ahead of time and using it as short hand to navigate through the blackjack scenes. Jim Sturgess is very good in the lead role and he is able to share space with his mentor and antagonist played by Kevin Spacey. Spacey cakewalks through the role with the kind of glib, I’m-smarter-than-you-are-and-I-know-it smugness that has come to characterize a lot of his work and it functions well here.
What Doesn’t: If 21 is marred by anything, it’s that the audience will probably figure out the entire story by the end of the first act. It follows a fairly predictable rags-to-riches-to-rags plotline, with Ben corrupted by his success and alienating his old friends. It’s formula done well but it does not stray much from that formula.
Bottom Line: Despite its adherence to convention, 21 is enough fun to justify a recommendation. It does not break much new ground but it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do and is a satisfying picture.
Episode: #186 (April 20, 2008)