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April 14, 2008
Review - " 21 " (in Theaters) - By Roland Hansen
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21 movie poster

Directed by Robert Luketic
Written by Peter Steinfeld & Alan Loeb
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne

Take a brilliant mind and mix it with Las Vegas, and you get is an incredible story that had
a good mix of drama, humor, and suspense. Jim Sturgess, last seen in Across The
Universe, really comes alive here. "21" follows the rise (and ultimate fall, and what
happens afterward) of a college math wiz recruited by his professor to outwit the blackjack
tables at Las Vegas and make a ton of money. It's a well made movie with lots of class
and style, and if you aren't turned off by the notion of filthy lucre, then you are bound to
enjoy this.

Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a shy, brilliant M.I.T. student who needing to pay school
tuition finds the answers in the cards. He is recruited to join a group of the schools most
gifted students that heads to Vegas every weekend armed with fake identities and the
know-how to turn the odds at blackjack in their favor. With unorthodox math professor and
stats genius Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) leading the way, they’ve cracked the code.
By counting cards and employing an intricate system of signals, the team can beat the casinos big time. Seduced by the
money, the Vegas lifestyle, and by his smart and sexy teammate, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), Ben begins to push the limits.
Though counting cards isn’t illegal, the stakes are high, and the challenge becomes not only keeping the numbers straight,
but staying one step ahead of the casinos menacing enforcer: Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne). “21” is inspired by the
true story of the very brightest young minds in the country and how they took Vegas for millions.

There are excellent scene transitions, great editing, and exciting visuals. Production design is realistic and lavish and the
cinematography is polished and slick. There are lots of elaborate camera dissolves and close-ups. The best parts of the film
are the close-ups of the characters at the blackjack tables. Film editing coincides with plot pacing, and ranges from slow to
super fast. Slick camera work and some good performances rev up the technical quality of this fact-based story. They did an
especially good job zooming way in on the cards, to where they almost become characters in the story. The casino scenes
are especially exciting, flashy, and sexy. Luring you into the thrilling and sometimes seedy world of Vegas gambling. You
never blame the character for falling into the trap, because it is all so addictive: the cash, the clothes, the fabulous suites.
The cinematography of both Boston and Las Vegas is quite topnotch, especially on the big screen.

The movie works well because of its cast. Jim Sturgess, the young
male lead, is outstanding. He does a great job of transitioning from
initial uncertainty to eventual acceptance and ultimately relishing his
new "career." He's eminently likable and you can't help pulling for him
all the way. Sturgess impresses as the ethical math prodigy slowly
corrupted by a world of superficial glamour, his endearing charm
putting an intriguing enough take on the "troubled but well meaning
hero" archetype. As Jill prophetically states “The best thing about
Vegas is you can become anyone you want”. Ben lets his ego get the
better of him and as a consequence loses his only real friends. In the
process, the shy, cautious Ben, who only wants the money for tuition
costs, morphs into his alter ego, a person quite unlike his original self.

As one might expect, Kevin Spacey effortlessly steals the show as the charismatic but ruthless professor managing the MIT
card counting team, and Spacey’s easygoing yet commanding presence is a profound boost to the film. He is cool, efficient,
very sharp with every line. As always, he always manages to steal every scene he is in. Lawrence Fishburne adds class,
much needed dramatic weight and moments of grim humour to his antagonistic burly head of casino security, gradually
catching on to the MIT team's scamming.

The film's pace starts off leisurely, then alternates between fast-paced Vegas casino action and periods of downtime wherein
Ben and fellow conspirator Jill talk shop and take in the high life. The story twists and turns in ways that may surprise you.
“21” is action-packed, smart, fun, well-acted, well-directed, and just
plain enjoyable. Spacey, Fishburne, and Bosworth are at the top of
their games and Jim Sturgess is going to be a star. The visuals were
great, the editing sharp, and the score right on point. Watch for the
twists at the end relating back to his classroom scenes at the
beginning of the film. It's not a very deep movie, but it does have
insight into human character and motivation. It's mainly just a lot of
fun to watch.

There’s a reason this film has been #1 at the box office for the past
few weeks. It’s a smart and entertaining time at the movies and it’s
good. Unfortunately you will
have to walk out at the end.