Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Set within the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the gambling halls of Las Vegas, this crime drama moves with a gentle pathos that draws you as the characters evoke feelings of sympathy and revulsion. It is a film about many things, among them giftedness, vulnerability, abuse, greed, vengeance, betrayal and coming of age.

The central character is the hard-working and gifted MIT student Ben (Jim Sturgess) who achieve almost perfect grades as he works his way towards Harvard Medical School. He lives with his widowed mother who is equally hard-working - a picture of familial harmony. Ben pursues a full scholarship for Med School but is up against stiff competition - otherwise it costs $300,000 - money he doesn't have.

In a maths class Ben reveals his exceptional ability and impresses his Professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey). Rosa draws him in to be part of an elite and illicit group that he trains to play Blackjack to win - by counting the cards and using maths to calculate probabilities of the cards left in the undealt deck. The mathematical principle of 'variable change' features as a repeating refrain throughout the film and even delivers the twist at the end!

Rosa takes his team to Las Vegas and gives them the means to play the tables. They make tens of thousands - Rosa takes 50% of the profit and the rest is split 5 ways. Ben gets well on his way to accumulating the £300K he needs for Med School. Unknown to the team, the Casinos employ security analysts to look out for dodgy practise and the net tightens around Rosa and his gang.

There are several sub-plots that run and provide a richer encounter with the story. Spacey is compelling as the controlling and abusive Master of Greed and the ensemble cast playing the other members of the team all turn in compelling performances. The narrative arc finds pleasing fulfilment and delivers a just outcome after so many injustices.

This is a good story to observe temptation, greed and restraint playing out. It's a pleasing and engaging film - one to cuddle up with on the sofa and enjoy a bowl of popcorn. I'll give it 7/10.

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