Thoughts on Film: 21 (2008)

    The 2008 film “21” tells the story of a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who used their math skills to win big at the blackjack tables of Las Vegas casinos. This article is an exploration of the themes and ideas presented in the film, as well as a discussion of the accuracy of the story and the portrayal of gambling and the casino industry. Additionally, we will examine the impact that the film has had on popular culture and its legacy in the years since its release.

    The Storyline

    The film 21 is based on the true story of a group of MIT students who form a blackjack team and use their math skills to win millions of dollars in Las Vegas casinos. The story follows Ben Campbell, a brilliant student at MIT, who joins the team led by his math professor and begins to experience the thrill of living a double life as a successful gambler in Sin City. As the team’s success grows, so do the risks and tensions, leading to a dramatic finale. Filming took place at Harvard Medical School, Chinatown, in Cambridge, and the Christian Science Center in Boston, Massachusetts.


    One of the central themes in the film is the struggle between morality and greed. The main characters are torn between their academic and ethical values and their desire for wealth and success. The film also explores the allure of gambling and the danger of addiction. Another recurring motif is the contrast between the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas and the mundane reality of academic life.


    The film features a diverse cast of characters, each with their unique motivations and personalities. Ben Campbell is the protagonist, a talented student struggling to pay for his education. His mentor, professor Micky Rosa, is a charismatic and manipulative figure who leads the blackjack team. The team itself is made up of a diverse group of students, each with their specialties, including card counting, acting, and finance. Other notable characters include Jill, a love interest for Ben, and Cole Williams, a casino security chief determined to catch the team.

    Portrayal of Blackjack

    The film 21 portrays blackjack in an entertaining and thrilling manner, with high-stakes games and elaborate card-counting strategies. The accuracy of the portrayal, however, has been debated by some critics and blackjack experts. While the film’s depiction of card counting is generally accurate, some have pointed out that the techniques used by the characters are not always realistic. Nonetheless, the film’s portrayal of blackjack has helped to popularize the game and its strategies among a wider audience.

    When compared with real-life blackjack, the film’s portrayal is a mix of accuracy and dramatization. The film accurately portrays the basic rules of the game, such as the objective of reaching 21 and the importance of not going over. However, the film’s depiction of the mechanics of card counting is not always entirely accurate. Despite the criticisms of the film’s portrayal of blackjack, it has had a significant impact on the popularity of the game. The film’s popularity has led to a renewed interest in the game and an increased demand for blackjack tables in both land-based and online casinos. People have been inspired to learn more about the game and play blackjack on online gaming portals. The popularity of blackjack has contributed to the growth of the online gaming industry, and there are now many websites you can visit for blackjack. It has also become a cultural touchstone, with references to the film and its characters being made in popular culture.

    Blackjack plays a central role in the film’s storyline, with the main characters using their skills in card counting to win millions of dollars from casinos. The portrayal of blackjack in the film is integral to the characters’ development, as they strive to perfect their counting techniques and outsmart the casinos. Additionally, the film uses blackjack as a metaphor for the game of life, with the characters often discussing the odds and risks involved in their choices and actions. Overall, the portrayal of blackjack in the film contributes to its themes of ambition, greed, and risk-taking.

    Cinematography and Visuals

    The film 21 utilizes a variety of cinematography techniques to create a sense of excitement and tension throughout the story. The use of close-ups and extreme close-ups during pivotal moments of the game, such as when a character decides to hit or stand, helps to create a sense of immediacy and intensity. The camera angles also frequently shift to create a sense of motion and movement, adding to the energy of the film.

    The film also makes use of visual elements and special effects to heighten the suspense and drama of the story. For example, during some of the blackjack scenes, the cards are superimposed over the characters’ faces to create a sense of the intense focus on the game. Additionally, there are several scenes where computer-generated graphics are used to show the mathematics behind the game and the counting strategies employed by the characters.

    The cinematography and visuals used in 21 are instrumental in building the tension and excitement of the film. The techniques used by the director help to create a sense of immersion in the world of the characters and the game of blackjack. The special effects and visual elements also add to the sense of drama and keep the audience engaged throughout the story. Overall, the cinematography and visuals are an integral part of the film’s success.

    Critical Reception

    The film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences. Some praised the film’s performances, visual style, and suspenseful plot. However, others criticized it for being too formulaic and predictable. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 36% based on 174 reviews, with an average rating of 5.1/10. The site’s consensus reads: “21 could have been a fascinating study had it not supplanted the true story on which it is based with mundane melodrama.”

    Despite mixed reviews, 21 was a commercial success, grossing over $157 million worldwide against a budget of $35 million. The film performed well at the box office, debuting at #1 in its opening weekend and staying in the top ten for several weeks. The film’s success can be attributed to its strong cast, compelling story, and the popularity of the blackjack game.

    21 was not widely recognized by major awards organizations, but it did receive a few nominations. The film was nominated for a Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie: Drama in 2008. It also received a nomination for Best Sound Editing at the Golden Reel Awards in 2009. While it did not win either of these awards, the nominations are a testament to the film’s overall production quality.

    To Sum it all Up

    “21” is a film that is both entertaining and informative, as it highlights the world of blackjack and the practice of card counting. The film’s portrayal of blackjack, while not always entirely accurate, is a mix of accuracy and dramatization, making it accessible to a wider audience. The use of cinematography and visual effects adds to the excitement of the film and complements the overall storyline. The film’s critical reception was generally positive, with praise for its strong performances and direction. Personally, I found the film to be a thrilling and captivating watch. While “21” has undoubtedly contributed to the growth of the online gaming industry, with many websites offering blackjack, it has also brought the practice of card counting to the forefront of popular culture. Overall, “21” is a film that provides an entertaining look at the world of blackjack and the thrill of the game.

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