Get absorbed by the cinematic portrayal of the saga of an MIT team, trying out card counting as a strategy to turn Live Blackjack odds in their favour.
21 – The MIT team’s story
“Bringing Down the House”, a non-fiction work by Ben Mezrich comes alive on the silver screen through the 2008 movie ‘21’. The movie narrates the story of an MIT student Ben Campbell who is aspiring to get into the Harvard Medical School. In a bid to raise the $300,000 towards the tuition fee, Ben is hoping to win at an investor’s competition along with his friends.
However, Ben gets noticed by an MIT professor Micky Rosa, for his exceptional brilliance with numbers. Ben is introduced to a team consisting of students along with the professor who is trying to discover a strategy to outsmart the Blackjack pros at Las Vegas casinos.
He gets convinced that the group’s efforts to utilize their math skills to create a flawless strategy for winning at Live Blackjack, could actually help him in achieving his dream of getting into medical school. Another incentive for Ben is that a beautiful girl Jill Taylor is also part of the team, as he had not been close to such a girl before.
The team of gifted students travels to Las Vegas on weekends under fake identifies to try and turn the odds at the Live Blackjack games in their favour. The students use the technique of counting the cards to improve their probability of winning at casinos. In this process, the players add all the cards that are dealt to know the probability of what is going to come next from the deck.
By using the card counting method and employing an intricate system of signals, the team is able to win big time at the casinos. Ben gets seduced by the money, lifestyle and companionship of his team member Jill, and starts to push the limits.
In the meantime a security consultant Cole Williams starts catching on the team’s strategies. The rest of the movie is an answer to the question – Will Ben be able to sustain his luck or get out of the addiction before it pulls him down.
As an entertainer, the movies does a commendable job of providing utmost fun and does not turn out to be a historical documentary. Many of the elements from the original book have been changed to give the movie a story that has a Hollywood style traditional plot. The director perfectly captures the spirit of Vegas and comes out with a completely absorbing movie. It looks at the human nature of greed and its accompanying consequences in the backdrop of casino gaming.
The card counting scenes are well done with a lot of close up shots of the chips and voice-overs informing the audience the count, which are impressive and holds the attention of the audience, compared to a boring act of watching card counting in reality.
The photography crew have come out with a good job lighting the two cities of Boston and Las Vegas to contrast Ben’s worlds.
All and all, ‘21’ is a nice attempt that tries to portray the fun of playing Blackjack and using the card counting technique.