21 (2008)

2017 #114
Robert Luketic | 123 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

21

21 is based on a true story. Actually, it’s based on a book that’s based on a true story. Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich was a non-fiction bestseller, telling the fun and exciting story of the MIT blackjack team, a bunch of college kids who learnt card counting and took Vegas for millions of dollars. It was such a popular book that all the attention made people look into it, and it turned out it was heavily fictionalised — Mezrich not only exaggerated events, he flat out invented whole chunks of the story. (At the same time, he also left out some good stuff.) In turn, the book has itself been heavily melodramatised for this movie adaptation. What we’re left with is probably about as close to the truth as Game of Thrones is a fair depiction of the Wars of the Roses: some of it happened, but not to those people, not in that way, not at that time, and certainly not all of it.

As a film, it’s been mashed broadly into the heist movie template. Setting aside the veracity and treating it purely as an entertainment, this has pros and cons. Whenever it’s whizzing around in Vegas it’s kinda fun, with flashy camerawork and a slick feel for the excitement of being a successful high-roller. But when it puts that aside to get stuck into the characters’ thinly-drawn personal lives, it gets kinda dull. Part of the point of the book is how boring normal life began to seem to the team when compared to their Vegas lifestyle, but 21 tacks on more interpersonal subplots that just become finger-drumming.

Counting cards

Trying to make the chosen genre function isn’t helped by the fact that there’s no complicated heist here. The blackjack team are doing the same thing over and over — that’s basically how their system works as a moneymaker — and once the system’s been explained and we see it in action, the film only has a few ways to jazz that up. Between that and those subplots, at over two hours 21 is much longer than it needs to be, but doesn’t focus that time in the right areas: at least one major character undergoes a huge personality change across a single montage.

21’s got enough pizzazz to make it enjoyable purely as a lightweight movie experience, but you do have to wonder: would the incredible real story, by dint of being true and not movieised to fit a genre template, actually have been more interesting?

3 out of 5

The Deathly Monthly Update for August 2017

It’s been a quiet summer here at 100 Films


#108 Shin Godzilla (2016), aka Shin Gojira
#109 This is the End (2013)
#110 Death Note (2006), aka Desu Nôto
#111 Nashville (1975)
#112 Death Note: The Last Name (2006), aka Desu Nôto: the Last name
#113 The Girl on the Train (2016)
#114 21 (2008)
#115 Death Note (2017)
#116 Eddie the Eagle (2016)
#117 Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008)
#118 Into the Woods (2014)
Shin Godzilla

Eddie the Eagle

.


  • With 11 new films, August has the lowest total for any month of 2017 to date.
  • It’s below the August average (previously 11.78, now 11.7), the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 14.6, now 14.25), and the 2017 average (previously 15.3, now 14.75).
  • With such low numbers, other stats can rack up quickly: over a quarter of films were from Japan, another over-a-quarter were Death Note movies, and just under a fifth starred Emily Blunt.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: the film that established Robert Altman’s trademark ensemble style, Nashville.
  • No WDYMYHS film this month. There are only 10 of them, so two months were always going to go without. August is the first of those.



The 27th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It was kind of an unremarkable month quality-wise as well as numbers-wise this August — plenty of films I liked, some I even liked quite a bit, but few that I loved. The exception would be Shin Godzilla, which seems to have a mixed response generally but I was this close to giving five stars.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
To repeat myself: it was kind of an unremarkable month, which also means there was nothing remarkably bad. That said, Netflix’s remake of Death Note was a disappointment. I don’t care about its relocation to America, I don’t even care that it wasn’t especially faithful to the original characters, I just care that it wasn’t very good in its own right.

Biggest Dick of the Month
Satan may rock up with a giant schlong in This is the End, but he’s got stiff competition (er, as it were) from James Franco, especially as James Franco is playing James Franco. But they’re both beaten by Light Yagami, who as well as being a cocky little shit (spoilers!) murders his completely innocent and perfectly sweet girlfriend just to prove he’s not a murderous psychopath. What a dick.

Least-True True Story of the Month
Eddie the Eagle may’ve invented a character out of thin air to be its hero’s coach, thereby completely changing the story of how he trained to compete in the Olympics — or “the whole story of the film” — but it’s got nothing on 21. The Vegas heist drama makes massive changes to the non-fiction book it’s based on that include simplifying the card counting system (the central point of the film), setting it in the present day (when surveillance technology would prevent them doing what they do), changing the characters’ ethnicities (whitewashing!), and, er, inventing half of the events that happen to them. Compound that with the fact the “non-fiction” book it’s based on is itself half made-up and you’ve got a film that’s roughly as historically accurate as Game of Thrones.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
For the third time this year, this film blog’s most-read new post was about TV: The Past Month on TV #21, which covered Top of the Lake: China Girl, Game of Thrones episodes 2-5, Twin Peaks episodes 11-14, Line of Duty series 3, Peaky Blinders series 2, and more. (The highest film review was in (a fairly distant) second, and was something some people would argue is also a TV review: Netflix’s Death Note.)



My Rewatchathon continues to toddle along at a reasonable pace, but quite far behind where it ought to be — I should be well into the 30s at this point. As my titular goal has flourished for the past few years, this is making me remember the days when it was a struggle…

#25 The Fugitive (1993)
#26 Ghost in the Shell 3D (2017)
#27 Arrival (2016)
#28 Jaws (1975)

As well as my full cinema review of Ghost in the Shell (linked above), I posted a few thoughts after my rewatch on Letterboxd.


2017 moves into my top five best-ever years (probably).