Movie Review: 21

I had heard about this movie with relation to Mathematics. I have watched A beautiful Mind-the life of a mathematician, earlier, so I was waiting to see this movie. Yesterday I could watch it on TV-courtesy HBO. The script writers, and director Robert Luketic have taken care that all the technical stuff (including Mathematical theorems) are portrayed correctly, unlike some of Bollywood movies – Ajnabiee (password is shown in plain text), Fida (Shahid Kapoor hacks by typing in “c:\hack.exe” in cmd), etc wherein technical stuff shown has no meaning at all. Anyway, instead of going deeper into how not to make a movie (Archive, moviemaker), I am going to tell the story of movie here.

MIT senior math major Ben Campbell is accepted into Harvard Medical School but cannot afford the $300,000 cost. Despite boasting a 44 MCAT score and a 4.0 GPA, Ben faces fierce competition for the prestigious Robinson Scholarship which would pay for medical school. He is told that he needs a way of “dazzling” Harvard in some way to stand out from from the other extremely well-qualified applicants (a life experience).

Professor Micky Rosa challenges Campbell with the Monty Hall problem (this is one of the probability theory paradoxes. In a nutshell, Monty Hall problem can be stated as- suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice? ), which Campbell solves successfully. Rosa invites Campbell to join his blackjack team, which consists of fellow students Choi, Fisher, Jill and Kianna. The system involves card counting, and the team—shepherded by Rosa—is split into two groups. “Spotters” play the minimum bet and keep track of the count. They send secret signals to the “big players,” who place large bets whenever the count at a table is favorable. Campbell reluctantly joins the team, telling Rosa he is only doing so until he can pay for medical school.

Rosa takes the team to Las Vegas over many weekends; Campbell comes to enjoy his luxurious lifestyle there. His performance impresses Jill (who falls for him) and Rosa, but Fisher becomes jealous at Campbell’s blackjack success. Rosa kicks a drunken Fisher off the team after he insults Campbell and incites a melee that requires the team to quickly “cash out” (using dancers from their usual strip-club meeting place) before the casino switches chips. Meanwhile, security chief Cole Williams monitors the blackjack team, particularly Campbell.

Campbell, distracted by blackjack, botches his part of a project for the 2.09 engineering competition, estranging him from his pre-blackjack friends. During the next trip to Vegas, an emotionally-distracted Campbell continues playing even after he is signaled to walk away, losing $200,000. An angry Rosa leaves the team and demands Campbell repay him for the loss. Campbell and his three remaining teammates agree to go into business for themselves. Williams apprehends Campbell, physically assails him, then lets him go after giving him a death threat.

Upon his return to Boston, Campbell learns that he has been given an incomplete for one of his classes and therefore will not graduate, and that his winnings have been stolen from his dorm room. He suspects that Rosa is behind everything but has no evidence. Campbell reconciles with his friends and Jill, and approaches Rosa with an offer: He and the team will hit Vegas for one more attempt before the casinos install biometric software that will quickly identify card counters, as long as Rosa—himself once a very successful “big player”—also plays.

Disguised, the team returns to the Planet Hollywood and win $640,000 before fleeing with their chips from Williams and his men. Campbell and Rosa split up, with Rosa taking the bag of chips. Rosa escapes with the intention of stealing the winnings, but finds his bag is full of chocolate coins and his limo is being driven by the casino manager.

The audience then learns that Williams had made a deal with Campbell after beating him up; he would let Campbell come to Vegas for one last night to make a lot of money in exchange for Rosa, who years earlier cost Williams a casino job by winning a seven-figure take via counting cards. Campbell’s pre-blackjack friends joined the team to help their friend. After capturing Rosa, Williams confronts Campbell and double-crosses him by demanding at gunpoint the bag of chips for his retirement. Aware that Ben plans on attending medical school to be a doctor, he assures the young man that everything will work out for him in the end. Ben hands the money over to Williams and leaves. Moments later, Rosa is tied to a chair where Williams greets him, informing the professor that he will turn him over to the IRS for evading taxes on his winnings. Campbell loses money The movie closes with Campbell recounting the entire tale to a “dazzled” Harvard administrator.

Kevin Spacey (as Professor Micky Rosa) tried to imitate University Profs and I must say he was quite successful. The way he portrayed the character, reminded me of Richard Feynman, whose book ‘You are surely joking Mr. Feynman’ I am currently reading and whose lectures on Physics are available online for free.


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