21 Bridges, directed by Brian Kirk (Penny Dreadful, Game of Thrones) and produced by Joe and Anthony Russo (Avengers: Endgame, Deadly Class) follows a night in the life of Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman). A dedicated police officer, Davis is drawn into what seems to be a grisly shootout between several police officers and two thieves.
Yet, the story is more complicated than that. The thieves, Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch) discovered that instead of the thirty kilos of cocaine they intended to steal, the location they robbed had three hundred instead. This places a massive target on their heads. Davis, given an ultimatum by his superiors, decides to lock down the island and box the thieves in. A frantic game of cat and mouse begins, with Davis unraveling a conspiracy that links to the theft.
Boseman’s performance is, without a doubt, the highlight of 21 Bridges. His turn as Davis ranges from quiet and observant to volcanic. He’s smart enough to realize when something isn’t right and he isn’t willing to take crap from anyone. A great example of this happens when two FBI agents, who show up to observe the case, corner a suspect and shoot him even though he was unarmed.
In response, Davis decks one of them and points out that the .38 the suspect was supposedly carrying is just the right size for the other’s ankle holster. It’s a smart bit of character work that showcases his detective skills. It’s also revealed early in the film that Davis’ father, also a police officer, died in the line of duty which helped shape his dedication to justice.
The supporting cast is fairly solid as well, especially James as Michael. In this role, James portrays a morally conflicted character. Michael doesn’t want to shoot anyone and often tries to bargain his way out of situations rather than solve them with violence. Kitsch’s Ray on the other hand, is a loose cannon in every sense of the word. If anyone even twitches the wrong way, Ray will pump them full of lead. Sienna Miller also turns in a solid performance as Detective Frankie Burns. A narcotics detective, Burns teams up with Davis to hunt down their targets.
Sadly, the only actor who gets the short end of the stick is Keith David. I’d have liked to see more of his police captain, particularly the relationship between him and Davis. It’s heavily implied that after Davis’ father died, David’s captain stepped in to fill in the role of a father figure and I feel like that could have been a relationship that could have given the film some emotional weight.
Another standout element of the film are the action sequences. They hit hard, fast, and when the audience least expects it, they are BLOODY. An eye is blown out, blood splatters on the walls and the streets, and the few punches that are traded land with bone-crunching impact. Kirk shoots these sequences up close and personal, lending a claustrophobic air to the action and an unflinching look at how dangerous the life of a police officer can be. An officer never knows whether their day can be the normal monotony of paperwork and patrols or if they’ll find themselves in the heat of battle. And it’s not just their lives that are affected-their partners, their families will often suffer if they die. The film is wise enough to acknowledge this, and show that these officers are more than a badge and a gun.
Although 21 Bridges works best as a throwback to gritty cop thrillers like Dirty Harry and Heat, the film stumbles is its script by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan. There are some solid lines. When another cop jokingly refers to Davis as a “trigger,” Davis fires back, “Y’know, you better have perfect diction calling me a trigger.” But the rest is boilerplate “tough guy” dialogue, and large parts of the film often feel predictable.
The audience can often guess who’s really a corrupt cop, or where the thieves are going to go next. J.K. Simmons portrays a cop who seems a little too gung ho about wanting the thieves dead; audience members will probably deduce that he has a larger stake in this case than he’s letting on. Also the “FBI and police butting heads” trope has been done to death, and doesn’t really add anything to the film. And the conspiracy elements feel bolted on, rather than organic. Mervis and Carnahan could have done with another pass at the script.
Despite a boilerplate script, 21 Bridges is a solid B-thriller that makes strong use of its leading man and gritty action sequences. With the Russo Brothers continuing to produce diverse fare such as this film and the Magic: The Gathering anime for Netflix, it’s clear they’re looking to delve into all kinds of stories post-Marvel; the same goes for Boseman.
21 Bridges is now playing in theaters nationwide.
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Despite a boilerplate script, 21 Bridges is a solid B-thriller that makes strong use of its leading man and gritty action sequences. With the Russo Brothers continuing to produce diverse fare such as this film and the Magic: The Gathering anime for Netflix, it’s clear they’re looking to delve into all kinds of stories post-Marvel; the same goes for Boseman
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.