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Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a shy, brilliant M.I.T. student who — needing to pay school tuition — finds the answers in the cards. He is recruited to join a group of the school's most gifted students that heads to Vegas every weekend armed with fake identities and the know-how to turn the odds at blackjack in their favor. With unorthodox math professor and stats genius Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) leading the way, they've cracked the code. By counting cards and employing an intricate system of signals, the team can beat the casinos big time. Seduced by the money, the Vegas lifestyle, and by his smart and sexy teammate, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), Ben begins to push the limits. Though counting cards isn't illegal, the stakes are high, and the challenge becomes not only keeping the numbers straight, but staying one step ahead of the casinos' menacing enforcer: Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne).
For more about 21 and the 21 Blu-ray release, see 21 Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on July 21, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Robert Luketic
Writers: Allan Loeb, Peter Steinfeld
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Laurence Fishburne
» See full cast & crew
21 Blu-ray Review
Should you double down and bet it all on this Blu-ray disc?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, July 21, 2008
In Boston, we had a secret. In Vegas, we had a life.
Nobody can predict the future with certainty, even within the realm of their own lives. Countless times have I prepared myself to write a review when something comes up, be it the arrival of a more popular title that requires my immediate attention, an unexpected bout of burnout, or an attack from a house cat requiring medical attention. The point is that nothing in life is certain, except, perhaps, for proven mathematical certainties. In 21, the desirable skill of card counting is the showcase for a loosely-based-on-real-events story that tells the fascinating tale of a group of whiz kids beating the Vegas odds and earning themselves loads of cash thanks only to a keen eye and a computer-like brain. The game is blackjack, the stakes are your future, and the odds are in your favor with the requisite mental prowess and foreknowledge of mathematical probability on your side. It's not until you get your wires crossed, your thoughts in a jumble, get too far ahead of yourself, and perhaps become too cocky do mistakes start to happen and people want you dead, which just happens to be the basic plot of Sony's new Blu-ray release of 21.
Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe) is a brilliant MIT student on the fast track to becoming the next great doctor to come out of Harvard's prestigious medical school. There is only one catch: tuition and other fees will cost him $300,000, and while he is in contention for a scholarship that will pay his way, there are no certainties that he will receive it. His only hope is to "dazzle" the man responsible for choosing the lucky candidate with a story as to why he is the most deserving recipient of the money. Or is it? When one of Ben's professors, the brilliant Dr. Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects) takes note of Ben's gifted mathematical mind and genius, he invites him into a secretive club of students who are the smartest the school has to offer. Their purpose: to count cards and walk away from Las Vegas with thousands of dollars every weekend by easily beating the house at the game of Blackjack, otherwise known as "21." Dubious as to the benefit and long-term gains such an endeavor would provide, Ben is initially reluctant to join the group but is persuaded by the most beautiful girl in school, and arguably the smartest, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns). As the group earns more and more money, continues raising the stakes, and becomea more visible and well-known around Las Vegas, a private security supervisor, Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix), himself no mental midget, begins to catch onto the group and prepares to pounce, with more than his reputation and job on the line.
21 offers little substance underneath its shiny, clean, and polished veneer. That doesn't make it a bad movie. Quite the contrary, 21 is a highly entertaining and engaging picture that relies more on glitz and glamour rather than tight storytelling and fresh ideas to satisfy the viewer. 21's success is in its ability to allow its audience to become a part of the story, to feel the roller coaster of emotions, from richly rewarded triumphs to pocket-emptying defeats, and through this vicarious nature the film is a success. Contrast this to the horrendous Sex and Death 101, itself a vehicle for its writer, and perhaps select audiences, to live vicariously through its lead character. The difference here is that the stakes are decidedly more real, the people more genuine, and the story better developed yet more concise. As a result, the reward for watching the film is a more accessible, believable, and satisfying experience where the audience can positively and with confidence tune into the ebbs and flows and fun of the movie. 21 sucks you in, and while most of the audience aren't MIT card counters, the film is portrayed in such as a way as to make us believe that we, too, could pull off such a scheme and live the life of a sure-fire winner and high roller in America's grandest, brightest city, living out the dream and forgetting we're merely school teachers, office bots, construction workers, doctors, lawyers, or movie reviewers. Through these characters, we can imagine living the high life where, to quote Dire Straits, "the money [comes] for nothing."
21 Blu-ray, Video Quality
21 deals out a winning Blu-ray transfer that, more often than not, will have you proclaiming, "winner winner chicken dinner!" Presented in 1080p high definition and framed in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1, the transfer is flat-out exceptional. The picture is bright, clear, distortion-free, and nearly perfect. Colors are vibrant, detail is excellent, flesh tones are spot-on, and there is a perfectly good theatrical look to the film, all courtesy of the all-digital presentation. The admissions office at Harvard Medical School where Ben pleads his case for the scholarship is cozy and comfortable with fine, natural detail from the objects on the admission officer's desk to the fireplace in the rear. Look at the detail on the bricks outside the men's clothing shop where Ben works at the beginning of chapter two. They look perfectly real and tangible, and the dark interior of the shop doesn't falter, either. Even the suits on display in the background have a "reach out and touch them" texture and highly visible level of detail. The texture of the playing cards in extreme close-up shots is breathtaking. Ridges and colors on the cards are true-to-life and vibrant, presenting an amazing level of clarity on each and every one. Black levels are deep and rich; the first arrival in Vegas is nothing short of an awe-inspiring image awash in bright colors surrounded by inky, deep, and pure blacks. It is a perfect image and no doubt will serve as a wonderful segment to use for video demonstration purposes. Each panoramic shot of the city's nighttime grandeur simply shines, and each time they are shown, the more impressed your audience will become. The smoky interiors of the various bar scenes in the movie hold up well with no color banding or other disturbing anomalies. The only drawback to the transfer that I noted are minor cases of shimmering and fluctuations in contrast. Overall, however, this transfer is a stunner, one worthy of reference and demonstration purposes.
21 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
21 offers listeners a solid, but not spectacular, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Dialogue isn't presented too low, but the music that plays over the film's introduction is so loud that spoken words become lost under the avalanche of music and sound. Bass rumbles and the surround speakers rock and roll and scream out their material, but at the expense of dialogue, an effect that very well may presented in such a way so as to replicate the feel of being in a loud Vegas casino. Laurence Fishburne's debut scene in the movie presents a solid sonic entrance for the character. In a cold, expansive, dimly-lit room, his voice echoes with a solid rear-channel presence that is as cold, uninviting, and menacing as the room itself. The various popular music tunes heard in the movie sparkle and are the high point of the audio mix. If I had one complaint, it would be that the soundtrack is just a bit too loud at my reference volume, and offers a slightly harsh edge. Music dominates the front and blends into the rears, but not with nearly as much volume as the sound emanating from the center and front right and left primary speakers. Bass generally kicks in during the more uproarious songs in clubs and dance halls, and the effect is a good, all-encompassing one, but don't expect the soundtrack to rattle your home on a regular basis. A solid listen, this track has its shortcomings, but is far from a troublesome track, and it compliments the movie rather well.
21 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
You can count on Sony and 21 to offer a solid supplemental package, this one headlined by an audio commentary track with director Robert Luketic and producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca. The track remains exciting and well-paced by throwing out both technical tidbits as well as tales of blackjack. There is the obligatory gushing over the quality of the performances and the professionalism of the actors and other mundane, dime-a-dozen insights, but the comments are generally fresh and interesting. Three featurettes are next. The Advantage Player (1080p, 5:25) is a funny, fresh, and informative feature that showcases the primary cast that lets us in on the history of blackjack, the basic rules of the game, and the basics of card counting. Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal (1080p, 24:48) is a better-than-average making-of feature that examines the origins of the story, casting the roles, shooting in an operational casino, and more. Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life (1080p, 7:08) examines the contrasting styles between the film's two primary locations, Boston and Las Vegas. Next is 21 Virtual Blackjack, a game that allows players to play blackjack online or off (offline will prevent scores from being uploaded). A brief video tutorial is available. 1080p Trailers for Prom Night, The Other Boleyn Girl, Men In Black, Damages: The Complete First Season, Persepolis, Across The Universe, Made of Honor, Vantage Point, and Married Life are available. Finally, this disc is BD-Live (Blu-ray profile 2.0) enabled. Accessing the feature takes you to a special site where users can download trailers, participate in surveys, and find extra material pertaining to the film and Blu-ray disc from where the site is accessed.
21 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
21 is a solid and entertaining film that is all the more enjoyable knowing that it is loosely based on a true story. At times, the film is fantastically tense and taut, truly edge-of-your-seat material that still works despite a healthy dose of predictability. The beauty of a film like 21 is in the grandeur and spectacle of the big city and big dreams shared by both the characters and the audience, and the straightforward, beautiful, yet workman-like direction that aids the picture tremendously. Never before has blackjack been so intense or smart people so cool, and the movie works as pure entertainment. Sony brings 21 to Blu-ray with a simply stunning high definition video presentation, a solid lossless audio offering, and a few worthwhile supplements, and taken as a whole, they make for a solid 17. Hold, keep counting your cards on the next hand, and enjoy 21. Recommended.
21: Other Editions
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21 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - July 22nd - July 23, 2008
Looks like I forgot to do this yesterday, so coming at you, albeit a little delayed, is a breakout of what came out on Blu-ray yesterday. This, of course,was a huge day for the format as we welcome Universal Studios to the family. Not surprising, the studio brought ...
• Sony Annouces 21 for Blu-ray - May 14, 2008
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring '21' to Blu-ray on July 22nd, day-and-date with the DVD release. The film, which stars Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects) and Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe), is based the real-life story of ...
21 Blu-ray Screenshots
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