21 (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“Winner, winner chicken dinner!”

Las Vegas has an attraction towards it, there’s no doubt about it. While it’s a different city nowadays than it was, say, fifty years ago there has been and will always be people trying to beat the system. For most of us, gambling is something that’s done a few times a year and Vegas is the ultimate place to do it. However for Ben Campbell and a few of his MIT buddies, Vegas was a weekend excursion for 17 weeks that saw both the highs and lows of the life that Las Vegas had to offer. “21” is based on the best-selling book “Bringing Down the House” by Ben Mezrich and the more amazing thing is that it’s all true. While “21” may not be a documentary, it’s a more of a stylized interpretation of the lifestyle. Just think, though, what if you were able to beat the system?

Ben (Jim Sturgess) is a meek MIT student with a 4.0 GPA and a desire to attend Harvard Medical school so that he can become a doctor. The problem is that school and everything else will cost upwards of $300,000 and he’s got nothing towards that goal. He’s interviewing for a scholarship with 70 other students as talented as him and needs something that “wows” the person in charge. He’s got nothing. By some chance, one of his professors, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) sees a unique talent in Ben and recruits him as a member of an elite club. This “club” is composed of other MIT students who, it turns out, fly to Vegas every weekend where they count cards and rake in the cash. They’ve got a system and it’s been working out and Ben’s talent is the icing on the cake. He reluctantly agrees to take part in the endeavor so that he can use his winnings to help finance his way through medical school. But as Ben starts to win, he begins to change and the allure of money, a lavish lifestyle and women namely Jill (Kate Bosworth) are a bit too much for Ben to handle.

I won’t delve too much more into the plot, but I will say that “21” is executed in a great way. I’ve always been fascinated by Vegas and trying to beat the house but guess what: those billion dollar casinos are there for a reason they’re built with the money that we lose in Las Vegas! It’s a fact. What’s important to note is that counting cards (like the characters in the film) is not illegal. Vegas can do a lot but they can’t stop anyone from counting in their head. I have to say that I really enjoyed the film, though there are some predictable moments. I neglected to mention Lawrence Fishburne’s character in the movie and having not read the book, don’t know how big of a part he has in it (if any) but it seemed to be trumped up for the movie. Regardless, “21” is fun and entertaining just like Las Vegas.

Video: How does it look?

Almost as perplexing as Las Vegas itself, “21” is one of the harder films I’ve had to classify in terms of picture quality. Let’s look at the facts: it’s a new, studio movie on Blu-ray so it should look great. This is where it gets a bit strange, it just doesn’t look that great. It seems like it was shot on video and at some moments there seems to be a bit of a motion blur to the sweeping scenes. This is hard to convey in words, but after breaking out a few other discs I wanted to make sure it wasn’t my television or my player and they were both fine. Granted, the 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer does have its good moments, but some of the flashy scenes with lots of motion just seemed a bit off to me. While I want to grade this higher, I just can’t agree with how a new movie like this looks on screen.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby TrueHD audio, however, is another story. From the opening words of the film (“Winner, winner chicken dinner” naturally) there was a very robust ambiance about the mix and this is highlighted during the Vegas scenes. Dialogue was very warm and natural and though the film has its down spots as well, I found the overall mix to be pleasing.

Supplements: What are the extras?

“21” comes with its share of supplements, most notably the commentary track with director Robert Lukitic who gives us plenty of information on the cast and crew as well as the source material. Again, this isn’t fiction this really happened. We get a few featurettes with the actors in the film who tell us and show us how to count cards as well as a look at Vegas itself. In a first for me, the BD Live technology lets you create an account and play blackjack (21) and even compare your scores with everyone in the world. It’s a nice and fun feature and I’d lost all $10,000 of my money in just under five minutes. Fun!

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