Sunday, April 6, 2008

"21" - movie review

I hadn't heard that they were making this movie, but when I first saw the trailer, I knew I wanted to see it. I already knew about the story not from news reports of the actual events, but because I had already read the book called "Bringing Down the House" by Ben Mezrich, whose accounts of the events this movie was based on.

A professor at MIT teaches a handful of brilliant students how to count cards and beat the odds in Las Vegas to win enormous amounts of money. It's not illegal, but the casinos are definitely not happy about it. They have their own back-room (or probably more appropriately, underground rooms) methods of dealing with it. I don't know if I would have been more interested in the setup if I hadn't read the book, but when they were explaining the method of counting cards and the code words that were used to mean other things, I wasn't nearly as intrigued by the movie as I had been by the book. There was also much more discussion about using disguises in the book than was depicted in the movie.

Jim Sturgess played the lead student in this film, and I thought he was really good in playing all the different beats, the rise and fall of his character. I completely didn't realize that I'd seen him recently in another film - he played the brother in "The Other Boleyn Girl".

Kevin Spacey played the MIT professor, and he was in fine form, as you'd expect. He plays bad really well.

Kate Bosworth, most recently known for playing Lois Lane in "Superman Returns", was ok. I thought her love interest story with the lead student was kinda boring - I can't remember if that followed the book.

Laurence Fishburne was just awesome in this film as one of the security guys out to catch the card counters. He's calm, cool and calculating, and he doesn't need the police to take care of his problems.

Josh Gad isn't a name I know, but I certainly recognize the actor. He plays Ryan on "Back to You", and he was quite good in this film.

Much of the film was shot in actual Las Vegas casinos - Planet Hollywood, Red Rock and Hard Rock. Their names are displayed and mentioned all over the movie. The film even had its premiere at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino (site of the former Aladdin Hotel and Casino). It surprises me a little that Las Vegas casinos embraced the film this much, but at least they were smaller casinos and not the big-name ones. I would imagine the big casinos don't need the publicity or the hassle that would have been created during shooting. I don't know if card counting is legal or not now, but at least they make it clear that you can't really get away with it nowadays.

The film did take some serious liberties with Las Vegas geography. At one point, some of the people are supposed to be in the penthouse suite at the Hard Rock, which magically has an amazing view of the Bellagio water show directly across the street. Hmmmm.

I do recommend this movie as it has an interesting story told well with very good performances. However, if you enjoyed the movie, I would also recommend the book as well.

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