21 is the film under discussion here, but the year 2019 has already treated us to some seriously strong cinematic releases. From the fantastic Apollo 11, which earned a 99% Rotten Tomatoes rating, through to Us, The Mustang and Captain Marvel, we’ve been spoiled with an array of magnificent movies spanning every conceivable genre.
But no matter how good this new material is, it doesn’t take away from some of the silver screen greats of yesteryear. Although a selection of these are still celebrated today, others have fallen by the wayside, and we believe it’s time to bring them back into the light.
American heist drama 21 is a perfect example. Filled with charismatic characters, thrilling wins and plenty of high-stakes action, it’s time for another generation of film enthusiasts to give it a go. Here’s what it’s all about.
A real-life heist
When 21 was released in 2008, it was far from the first film to play upon the concept of an all-American heist, but it did do it exceptionally well. Taking every cliché in the book and showing why they’re so popular, it brought together a sterling cast and plenty of slick on-screen action.
The movie centres around the real-life story of the infamous MIT Blackjack Team, whose tale was shared in Bringing Down the House, a best-selling book by Ben Mezrich, which you can check out here. Focusing on a group of students and ex-students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Business School, Harvard University and a number of other leading colleges, it tells of how they used card counting techniques to cheat casinos all around the world.
The group’s modus operandi centred around blackjack and it’s the same story in the film. As Paddy Power explains, blackjack is a card game in which the aim is to reach 21. There are various different ways to play, ranging from the traditional to the innovative, with both novices and pros welcome at the table. Conceived as a game of luck, the concept was nonetheless manipulated by the brilliant minds of the MIT team, who employed a number of sophisticated strategies to tip the odds in their favour.
Fortunately for the viewer, this makes for some seriously compelling cinematic moments, as the acting talents of Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth & co. so aptly demonstrate.
A gripping plot
Although based on a true story, the creatives behind 21 were evidently not afraid to use artistic licence to spice up the storyline. The result is a compelling one.
The film follows Ben Campbell (Sturgess), a mathematics major at MIT who’s accepted into Harvard Medical School. Unable to foot the $300,000 tuition fees, he finds himself at an impasse, until Professor Micky Rosa (Spacey) offers him the life-changing opportunity to join his blackjack team, which already consists of a host of talented students.
Working together, this brainiac team are able to utilise the outlawed practices of card counting and covert signalling. Massively boosting their chances of winning, they soon begin to earn substantial profits, carving out luxurious lifestyles for themselves.
Of course, as with all good stories, it’s not quite that simple. Building to a dazzling climax, the film boasts exceptional acting performances, plenty of edge-of-your seat moments and an ending that we guarantee you won’t see coming.
Isn’t it time you added 21 to your watch list?
Running time: 123 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
Format: 2.35:1 (Super 35)
Released: April 11th 2008
Director: Robert Luketic
Producers: Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Kevin Spacey
Screenplay: Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb (based on the book “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions” by Ben Mezrich)
Music: David Sardy
Ben Campbell: Jim Sturgess
Professor Micky Rosa: Kevin Spacey
Jill Taylor: Kate Bosworth
Cole Williams: Laurence Fishburne
Choi: Aaron Yoo
Kianna: Liza Lapira
Fisher: Jacob Pitts
Terry: Jack McGee
Miles Connoly: Josh Gad
Cam Azazi: Sam Golzari
Ellen Campbell: Helen Carey
Bob Phillips: Jack Gilpin
Stemple: Spencer Garrett
Planet Hollywood Dealer Jeff: Jeffrey Ma
Jill’s Friend: Kris Williams
Poker player: Kieu Chinh