21 Bridges, 2019.
Directed by Brian Kirk.
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Stephan James, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch, J.K. Simmons, Jamie Neumann, Morocco Omari, Gary Carr, Shayna Ryan, Dale Pavinski, Louis Cancelmi, Katie McClellan, and Keith David.
An embattled NYPD detective is thrust into a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers after uncovering a massive and unexpected conspiracy.
There are intriguing ideas at the center of 21 Bridges (director Brian Kirk’s stab at a crime thriller after helming episodes of a number of popular TV series over the years, including Game of Thrones), namely the well-conceived character of NYPD Detective Andre (Chadwick Boseman) who is both a killer yet always follows his creed of never firing a gun first. In relation to current times, this is a fascinating dynamic to explore, especially from the perspective of a black man in law enforcement, which is also what leads one to assume is the reason this got some financial backing as a favor towards Black Panther himself from Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo. Clearly, this is a character that Chadwick Boseman wants to explore.
Unfortunately, 21 Bridges fails as any serious commentary regarding race relations, trigger-happy police officers and criminals, and the notion of getting involved with shady drug deals as a poor man paying off in the long run. An important confrontation that sees two black men of different statuses and motives staring each other down, deciding what crucial choices to make, should feel more resonant and less like a logical set piece in a relatively generic action join that will be forgotten as soon as its potential viewers come home to Thanksgiving dinner. A gritty firefight squaring off cops and criminals where nearly all of the men and women on duty are brutally gunned down with semi-automatic weapons should have more of a lasting impact emotionally and psychologically (especially considering the no-punches-pulled graphic detail) than somewhat being set aside until the ending (or quickly hearing in the background from a televised news report that the only remaining victim has been taken off life support).
None of this means 21 Bridges is necessarily a disaster, just that it comes up short on its intended ambitions. As a random action movie that does nothing special, however, it’s actually quite enjoyable swiftly going from one violent sequence to the next (complete with an at times overwhelmingly atmospheric score that works during the crime scene sleuthing and rare quiet moments), which switch it up from on foot chases constructed in tight corridors and claustrophobic spaces (the most exciting and engaging of the action variants on display here) to chaotic vehicle pursuits that all are decently edited together and coherent to follow. They are simultaneously forgettable as soon as they are over, but the breakneck pacing and competent direction work in favor of all 21 Bridges‘ narrative shortcomings.
It’s just a shame that the prologue sets up something beyond one-dimensional characterization only to quickly abandon that element. Chadwick Boseman’s Andre has law enforcement in his DNA according to him, as his father was an officer tragically shot down at a crime scene alongside his squad. He also cares for his elderly mother, and strongly abides by morals when on the job. There is never a second when the character betrays his ideology of never shooting first, even during times when to everyone else in the room he probably should. Naturally, this reserved pacifism (until guns and blood absolutely become vital to survival) makes for a good contrast to some other characters that are quick to murder. Information pertinent to the case is also obtained by thinking and asking questions first rather than forgoing the value of human life, especially ones that might be playing a part in crime much bigger than what they signed on for.
Still, there are no real surprises in 21 Bridges; it’s plotted the way most are expecting it to go, betrayals and secret villains accounted for. Stephan James is serviceable as a criminal for hire that finds difficulty in pulling the trigger (more so when cops are the ones closing in on him) unlike his hotheaded former Marines partner played by Taylor Kitsch. They contain varying degrees of empathy, as Stephan shows regret and uncovers more sinister plans. Also along for the ride is a narcotics agent played by Sienna Miller, and the chief of police played by J.K. Simmons, neither of which are given great material despite also being relevant to the main story. J.K. Simmons shouts a lot swearing for revenge before briefly remembering the fallen officers under his command, whereas Sienna Miller has the pleasure of partaking in a few of the battle sequences.
Of course, the reasoning behind the title is that every bridge surrounding Manhattan must be closed to box the suspects into a confined area for easier eliminating. Surprisingly, there are barely any bridges on screen or anything replicating that feeling of not just a city but justice itself closing in. 21 Bridges is more fixated on going through the motions of standard crime thriller fare, the usual twists and turns, and doing wrong by its once interesting protagonist. Chadwick Boseman does all he can by way of facial expressions to salvage the week story from Adam Mervis (also co-written with Matthew Michael Carnahan), even striking some badass movement during the closing shoot out; his swagger and the average direction just aren’t enough to make any of these bridges worth crossing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com