Synopsis – An embattled NYPD detective is thrust into a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers after uncovering a massive and unexpected conspiracy.
My Take – Right from its first promo I knew exactly how this film was going to turn out to be. Despite looking like a little more than a middlebrow cop-agenda, this Brian Kirk directed action thriller looked exactly like something we have seen a million times before.
A film that would have been marked out as a disposable B-film that very few people would care about except for the fact that it stars ‘Black Panther’ star Chadwick Boseman in the lead and is produced by the Russo brothers, fresh off the success of the highest grossing film of all time, ‘Avengers: Endgame’.
While the film is without a doubt marred with classic clichés, it does surprisingly elevate itself from being fairly staid and standard procedural thriller into a slick and well-made police drama that works as a lean and mean piece of character driven storytelling in the backdrop of one night gone horribly wrong.
This is not a stylistic action flick that captures your attention with VFX-laden, hard-boiled stunt sequences, instead it trades all of that to focus on the punchy dialogues and stimulating drama where no pretentious schemes are taking place.
There’s good cops, dirty cops, and bad guys rolled up into a big city rug for 110 minutes with some genuine entertainment boxed in. In a world where franchise building film-making is everything, somehow this sort of predictability end up seeming more comforting.
The story follows Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman), a no-bullshit New York detective, who along with being the son of a deceased highly decorated cop has earned a reputation of being trigger happy especially when it comes to hunting down cop killers. His biggest case comes in the form of robbery gone wrong where two perpetrators, Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephen James), who after stealing a huge amount of cocaine, ended up killing eight cops while making a getaway.
Promoted to be the lead on the case by Captain Matt McKenna (J.K. Simmons) and tagged with a partner, Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), Andre is thrust into the citywide manhunt, which as the night unfolds, become blurred on who he is pursuing, and who is in pursuit of him. With the search intensifying, extreme measures are taken to prevent the killers from escaping Manhattan as the authorities close all twenty one bridges to prevent any entry or exit from the iconic island.
The set-up is pretty simple, reminiscent of many classic cop films. A factor made a little easier by director Brian Kirk’s ready application of atmospheric noir conventions and wonderfully realized genre tropes that imbue the film with a gritty ambience that helps set the scene. While this may only be the second feature for veteran TV director Brian Kirk (with the lesser know 2006 film Middletown being the first), his extensive experience serves him quite well on this one. The very nature and premise of the story requires it all to move and a brisk clip and he does that while make sure to touch on all the bases that he needs to.
Yes, it’s not the sort of intellectually probing portrait of law enforcement’s systemic issues, but it makes for a more compelling narrative than one might expect. It’s not exactly a surprise as the film’s telegraphed twists begin to stack up, but the implication of those turns is what resonates. There’s a nice mix of the procedural and some well-choreographed and executed chase and action sequences.
Despite a lack of any meaningful sense of urgency or narrowing of the hunt, the shootout/chase/standoff action does help move the film on nicely, and the atmospheric film-making almost makes up for the eyeroll-worthy introduction of the secret-stuffed USB drive, which is apparently the go-to MacGuffin of choice in Hollywood writers rooms these days.
We are also shown different perspectives of the same coin and hence, we don’t rush into quick judgment on any of the characters. However, as the story moves along, the unpredictability factor dies down with it. When you reach the end, it’s not as satisfying as one would assume such investigative thrillers to be.
The action is also well staged; neat, nasty and compact which is what it should look like while in the middle of a chase on the streets of New York. But while the story remains lackluster, the cast of the film does a pretty good job making up for it.
Chadwick Boseman puts in a fantastic leading man performance, and is convincing and tough in the lead. Stephan James is a revelation in this role, as he brings a perfect blend of viciousness and emotional heart to his character. J.K. Simmons does his usual beguiling and squirming to make the best of a hammy, stereotypical role. Sienna Miller and Taylor Kitsch they don’t get a whole lot to do, but remain effective as always. However, Keith David is wasted. On the whole, ’21 Bridges’ is a standard cop thriller that has been executed competently and entertainingly.
Directed – Brian Kirk
Rated – R
Run Time – 110 minutes