Movie Review: 21
Starring Kevin Spacey and Lawrence Fishburne
If only I had the money, I could do so much. I could buy that car. Pay off my College debts. Support my brothers and sisters on the mission field. Buy all those books on my Amazon wish list. But where am I going to get that kind of cash? Maybe I should hit the casino and start counting cards at Blackjack. After all, it’s not illegal…
21 is the story of 5 university students, who under the guidance of one of their lecturers, takes Las Vegas for millions. These big brain students have a system where they are able to use maths to predict when to hold them, when to fold them, and when to walk away (yes, I know that’s a poker reference, but I liked the sound of it). While what they’re doing is not illegal and technically not cheating, the casinos aren’t exactly happy shinning people about it either. Lawrence Fishburne plays an old school casino investigator, violently making sure that card counters don’t try their tricks twice. He’s got our card counting kids in his sights and he’s ready to shut them down.
The makers of this film managed to do something that I was unsure was possible: make a movie about maths interesting. Each of the actors, especially Kevin Spacey who plays the lecturer, put in great performances. From the very start we’re given a sense that what they’re doing carries and element of risk. And that the rewards for taking the risk are more than worth it. Just keep playing the game right and no one gets hurt.
But there’s still that tension there. What they’re doing isn’t illegal. But is it right? If it was perfectly above board, why is it so risky? Because it’s a grey area. The casinos don’t like it because they loose money. It’s not in the spirit of the game. It’s one big secret that leads to jealousy, rejection and fracturing of relationships. This “business arrangement” brings out the worst qualities in those concerned. Their greed, both for the money and for the thrill it brings, leads to ugliness. At the end of the day, they’re forced to ask if the money is worth not only the risks but the dramatic changes in their lives.
Counting cards is a grey issue. There are some issues in this world that are black and white. Others live in that grey area in between. It’s the same thing with the Bible. Some things God makes clear are right and wrong. Do love your neighbour. Don’t steal from him. Do stand up for your belief in God. Don’t worship other gods etc. But there are some issues that live in the grey area. Should I eat food that has been sacrificed to idols? Should I get circumcised? Should I go out to parties and drink alcohol? How far can you go with a boyfriend/girlfriend before it counts as sexual immorality? Some of these issues are unclear because the situations didn’t exist when the Bible was being written. Some are unclear because the answer will be different for everyone. These are areas of wisdom. Each individual is to evaluate their situation in light of the teachings of Scripture and make a decision that will point them towards honouring God. In some situations the results may vary.
There is great danger in taking things that are wisdom issues and making them black and white issues. It’s not up to us to take what God has given as a freedom and make rules about it. We are not to legislate what God has left unlegislated. Sometimes we impose rules on our Christian brethren when the issue involved is a matter of wisdom and not something that is black and white. We need to know our Scriptures well enough, to meditate on the Word of God, so that we know what is a matter of wisdom and what is a direct command from God. However, we’re not to flaunt our freedoms in front of our weaker brothers and sisters either. We don’t want them to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9).
Card counting may not be illegal. But does that mean it is wise to do it? The Bible’s position on gambling is (as far as I can see) a black and white issue. It comes under the heading of wisdom issues. In 21, we see the short term gains. But we also see the longer time losses. We see what blackjack does to these people. We see them fall apart. Would they in hindsight think their actions were wise? I very much doubt it. Are their areas of our life where we are treating areas of wisdom unwisely? Are we so hooked on our freedoms that we’re missing the point and not bringing God the glory? Are there some things we treat as black and white issues that are in fact wisdom issues?