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Actors: Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira
Director: Robert Luketic
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
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 recr... more »
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You can always count on emotions
Luca Graziuso | NYC | 07/25/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Many critics have found the movie distressed and compromised by the lack of vitality that should be excited by any movie that has Vegas as its stage. Indeed they do not overdraw from a tale that rehearses the usual rut of a good guy forced by circumstances to use his talents to an immoral strain so as to keep up with the rest of the world. The story is based on the book "Bringing Down the House", about the experiences of MIT student Jeff Ma and his team of gambling buddies, yet it deals with situations that both add and detract from the truth and the fiction alike. In the process of translating the narrative as a movie script the story absorbs qualities that feel jaded and ordinary by Hollywood standards, and the sensationalism of the story is depressed by the memory of Ocean's 11 and Casino, movies that have raised the stakes so high 21 flops by comparison. Not to mention the radically simplified version of the "cheating" strategy employed by the students, which seems to be so arithmatically feasible that one wonders why it does not happen more often. And by the way it does happen but to say that it is possible is not saying anything beyond the dreamy subtitle of a Vegas trip.
The movie does have numerous redemptive qualities, some of which have been so indiscreetly dealt with by most critics it gives credit to the theatregoers who simply discuss movies for fun and not as a professional happenstance. The movie has a subpolt filthy rich with a wealth of psychology that it is unfortunate the leading role went to Jim Sturgess. The star of the team of brains that "plays" the casinos is frightful to watch. This is undoubtedly the worst acting in a leading role in a long time. Emotionally he is a dud; his intelligence never shines through; his panache is invisible; his anxiety mechanical; and his attraction for Jill is melodramatic without the hint of affection and as if it were not enough, his supposed timidity is something we deduce more so by hearsay than by any true acting merit. If reminded of another Boston genius played by Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting" we realize how bad the performance is. And he stands alongside Kevin Spacey, who is in top form as a math professor that recruits the students and schools them on how to take down the house. The wry sarcasm, the coiled irony and the implacable cynicism we have come to admire is delivered with taste as always. He elicits well the emotional farce of a stigmatized, pulverizing, insensitive, crass, demoniacal soulless leader that corrupts and avenges without any notion of a limit ever being entertained. Spacey is fabulous and Laurence Fishburne is far too good for the role dealt him, but as all great actors have time and again reminded us, there is no such thing as a small role. He practically takes over the movie. His struggles and fears, the demons of the past that haunt him and the vengence he craves as a anodyne to a tarrying heartache is impressive. His psychosis is balanced just enough to climax with irresistable loathsomeness, all the while rendered so vitally sympathethic we end up siding with him, to some extent, only to be reminded by the plot that we should not have according to script. And what about Jill? yes the genius gal who is second shafted because of gender by the math prof, she seduces the audience, even Ben (although the acting made us wonder quite a bit). Kate Bosworth emotionally composed performance fits well with the directive of her role. This film reunites her with co-star/director Kevin Spacey and director Robert Luketic. She demonstrates the maturity of an actress scintillatingly beyond the clammy classless fixture of her romantic counterpart. She admonishes Ben on several occassions thereby functioning as a alloy to his instinct and as a monition of conscience, which all american movies must support in some way so as to be rated PG-13, as this one is. Not a scene where she becomes sexy merely by physical disclosure, rather she is sensual because of her aloof poignant approach to rational stirrings. She evades close-ups, she dashes through frames as if by impetus and never loses the momentum claimed from the moment she enters the intricacies of the drama. She deserves a better mate, but the role of Ben is an excessively demanding character to do justice to.
The outstanding quality of the movie resides in its exploration of the reason/emotion dichotomy. The two spheres seem to be mutually-exclusive until we do indeed approach Shakespearean heights that defy any such garbled psychology. We are brought to economize the sentimental pragmatism that is required of such a narrative by tracing the vulnerability that such a distinction isolates. Please watch the movie again, those of you who've failed to illuminate this aspect of a trajectory that takes us card after card unto a universe where rational dictates are full force countermanded by emotional traces, and the two domains clash and clang to a barely audible cacophany that goes beyond the moral lithanies we often impose on the ethics of a movie. Here there is no such thing. We see Lady MacBeth, we see Iago, we see Othello. There have been few movies that have been able to unearth the benumbing force that these separate universes betray. 21 succeeds in this, more so than the book on which it is based. And the performances of Spacey, Fishburne, Bosworth, and not least Jacob Pitts in the role of Fisher make it a flick worth viewing. The last actor in the aforementioned list, Jacob Pitts, sidled into a minor role that is played flawlessly that storms about with thunderous energy.
21 has fertile layers, that if one is willing to explore, will yield a chill and lead to question the intellectual quality of emotion and vice versa as a proverbial Shakespearean drama has the stealth to do. And yes Jim Sturgess was legitimate in "Across the Universe", but here we have a star that drags the movies down while everyone else tries to salvage what it may."
Michael Zuffa | Racine, WI United States | 04/09/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ben Campbell (Sturgess) has a problem. He is graduating from MIT and has been accepted to Harvard Med School, but he doesn't have the $300,000 it will cost him to attend. Then, along comes Professor Micky Ross (Spacey). Mickey offers him a place on his "team". This team visits Las Vegas on weekends, and by counting cards makes a lot of money. After initially refusing, Ben is swayed by the need for money and the affections of Jill Taylor (Bosworth), a member of the team. In Vegas, Cole Williams (Fishburne), the head of security of one of the casinos is about to figure out the team's scheme. Ben may be in for more than he bargained for.
"21" is the fictionalized account of college kids who really did beat one of the most sophisticated anti-crime systems in Las Vegas. The story is interesting, even if it has been Hollywoodized. The plot points toward the end are predictable, but the fact that these kids were able to get away with this for so long sustains the interest for the majority of the movie. Kevin Spacey is good as always, radiating intenseness. Sturgess and Bosworth get the job done, while not providing memorable performances. "21" is an interesting, enjoyable film.
Mark Turner | 07/26/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Films about gambling and Las Vegas in particular have always held a certain fascination with the public, culminating with perhaps the ultimate Vegas movie OCEAN'S ELEVEN. But this week we have a release of a film that takes the Vegas movie a whole new direction. Most stunning of all is that it is in part based on a true story.
TWENTY ONE is the story of Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a struggling student at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) who has hopes of attending Harvard Med School. A grade A student with a 4.0 average, Ben is interviewed for a full ride scholarship. All he has to do is present an essay describing a life experience that sets him out above the other several hundred students applying. The problem is he has nearly no life experience.
That all changes when he starts a class taught by Prof. Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey). During the class, Rosa notices Ben's aptitude with numbers and mathematical equations. In turn, he invites him to join a select group of students Rosa has put together. The reason? Using the technique of counting cards, they plan to make a mint in Vegas at the blackjack tables.
At first hesitant to do so, Ben finally comes around and joins the group which consists of Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), Choi (Aaron Yoo), Kianna (Liza Lapira) and Fisher (Jacob Pitts). The group learns to not only count cards, they put together a set of signals to let the lead player know which tables are hot and when to move on. When they have it down, they become Vegas bound.
It runs like clockwork. The tables return them all a tidy profit and back to school they go, only to return weekend after weekend. Along the way a romance develops between Ben and Jill, Choi continues to pilfer tiny items everywhere he goes and Fisher places the entire project in jeopardy with a drunken night at the tables. The result is Fisher gets booted and Ben becomes the big cheese.
With money coming in like never before, the rush of taking on the tables in Vegas and finding love at last, Ben's life changes but not for the better. Grades become a thing of the past as do his friends. His focus becomes making more and more money until he takes a chance he can't come back from.
A bad night at the tables results in Micky cutting Ben lose and leaving the team in their hotel room alone. Making the decision to go it alone, Ben gets caught by Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne), the head of security for the hotel casino. Not only does he get caught, Cole has a grudge against an old gambler he lost years ago...named Micky Rosa.
The twists and turns at the end of the film along with the build up from the start make this a compelling movie that holds your attention from the starting gate. Ben's life riding a roller coaster of lows, highs and a return to the lows makes for an interesting tale that turned out much better than I expected.
All performances seen in this flick are totally believable from the leads to the secondary characters. While Spacey may have been the "name above the title" in getting this movie made, he doesn't take center stage here, instead opting to work with the ensemble and that is to the benefit of the film.
Based on the true story of a group of MIT students who actually did take Vegas for a ton of money, though not nearly in the same way shown here for dramatic effect, the film is certain to get the hopes up of gamblers seeking a way to beat the bank. Don't get caught up in that notion as the house is always the favorite. Instead, get caught up in the tale of a group of students led by a charismatic teacher who take a gamble and end up getting more than they bargained for.
Ben Riles | Trenton, NJ USA | 07/12/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"fun film to watch
nothing screams oscars but its a good movie for whenever you need something to watch
-kind of predictable but a sick ending twist
-gambling scenes are fun to watch
-genius envy for the characters that graduate MIT with a 4.0
-dont have to be a genius to count cards
all in all a good flick"