A fun Hollywood trip to Vegas, 21 is a solid piece of gambling cinema, loaded with easy to follow characters and enough style to keep the basic card game interesting. While at times a bit hard to believe, 21 is salvaged by its pacing and easy flowing storytelling, mixing drama and comedy perfectly. This is an engaging film.
Jim Sturgess stars in this true story of MIT student Ben Campbell lured into a card counting scheme by his professor (Kevin Spacey). Incredibly smart, Campbell makes the classic gambling mistake of pushing things too far even after he has what he needs to make it into Harvard’s medical school.
21 comes with a number of unexpected twists at the end to leave the viewer feeling satisfied. What leads up to that would have been enough, as director Robert Luketic keeps the card game interesting visually while ramping up the intensity to make it feel as if they’re truly in danger of being caught.
Laurence Fishburne plays the aging security guard in one of the more unbelievable roles, beating card counters he’s caught in the act senseless in the basement. It’s completely out of place and unrealistic to believe that type of authority could possibly fly in the real world.
While the script tries to explain card counting to the audience through dialogue, much of it is quickly passed through. Even if it all comes out as a foreign language to the viewer, there’s still enough to get by on and become engaged by the plot. The right dose of comedic elements lightens the tone before things spiral out of control later when greed takes over.
A note or prologue letting the audience know what happened to Campbell later in his life, and possibly what happened to Kevin Spacey’s character would have been nice. Audiences are left in the dark unless they know the full story. Still, the material that is here is exciting and unique and well worth spending two hours on.
21 is so astonishingly detailed on Blu-ray, you can literally see the ink texture on the cards. This is a phenomenal live action presentation, loaded with depth and brilliant, natural colors. Black levels remain deep throughout, and the overhead shots of Vegas at night are amongst some of the most beautiful shots the format offers. If you’re nitpicky enough, the whites can occasionally run a little hot, but this is a minor flaw in a nearly perfect Blu-ray transfer.
While the movie itself may be lacking opportunities to show off heavy bass (the musical backdrop inside a club is about it) this is an otherwise atmospheric and lively TrueHD mix. The casino comes alive, with light chatter and various other sounds enveloping the viewer in the experience. Character dialogue nicely fits in without being overwhelmed.
Director Robert Luketic sits down with his co-producers for a commentary which not only discusses the shoot, but the actual events that inspired it. Three featurettes run about 37 minutes, including one that tries to further explain how counting cards works. A Blu-ray exclusive blackjack game is included, and it’s surprisingly well rounded, both visually and how it plays.