Even with Chadwick Boseman (who's compelling as ever) at its disposal, 21 Bridges struggles to distinguish itself from other police thrillers.
With Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo producing and T'Challa himself starring (to mention nothing of the impressive supporting cast), there's a lot of big-name talent associated with 21 Bridges. The actual movie shows signs of a greater depth befitting those credentials, toying with issues about economic anxiety, corruption, and the psychological toll of being a cop at certain points. But at the end of the day, there's just not enough beneath the surface to elevate the film into being much more than a routine genre feature. Even with Chadwick Boseman (who's compelling as ever) at its disposal, 21 Bridges struggles to distinguish itself from other police thrillers.
Boseman stars in 21 Bridges as Andre Davis, a hotshot NYPD detective whose father was a police officer killed in the line of duty when Andre was only thirteen years old. Nineteen years later, Andre has become a local legend in his own right, and is (in)famous for being willing to pull the trigger on would-be cop killers when he feels it's deserved. For that very reason, he's the man who Manhattan police Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) turns to when eight of his officers are gunned down during a robbery gone wrong one night. Paired with narcotics detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), Andre puts the entire island on lockdown and sets out to capture the fleeing criminals (Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James) in the next few hours, before they can escape and daily life in NYC resumes.
The main flaw in 21 Bridges is the overarching plot, which struggles to subvert the tropes of the cop genre or throw audiences anything in the way of an unexpected curveball. It's not spoiling anything to say there's a much larger mystery at play in 21 Bridges, but viewers will probably have a good idea of where things are headed (and which characters are not to be trusted) well before the impending third act twists are revealed. Up until then, though, 21 Bridges is content to play out as a series of effective chase sequences and suspenseful set pieces scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan (Deepwater Horizon) and Adam Mervis (The Philly Kid). The downside is this approach is that it leaves little time for the movie to actually unpack the topics it wants to broach about the trauma cops are forced to live with in their daily lives, and how they can be both justly feared by the general public, yet over-worked and underpaid at the same time.
Much of 21 Bridges rests firmly on Boseman's shoulders but, as you'd expect by now, he handles the challenge with grace and dignity. Far from being a superhero (though he has the requisite tragic backstory), Andre hews closer to a righteous crusader along the lines of a character who Sidney Poitier might've played in his prime. He's a figure who commands respect and Boseman brings just the right amount of swagger, yet humility to the role to avoid making him come off as excessively pious. The only problem with the character is he never seems to be in any real danger of losing control, so there's never any tension over whether he will do the right thing in his hunt for the bad guys. Even when Andre bends the rules and uses his authority to get potential informants to talk, he's always calm and fair about it. And yes, that's partially the point, but it also means he doesn't have much of an arc in the film.
Most of the characters in 21 Bridges are similarly under-cooked, and their big dramatic moments only really land because of the actors involved - ranging from Oscar-winners (Simmons) to arguably under-appreciated talents (Miller and Kitsch), and up and comers who continue to show great promise (James). In addition to coaxing worthy performances from his cast, director Brian Kirk keeps the film moving at a brisk pace and is overall competent in the way he stages its shoot-outs and action scenes. Kirk has primarily directed for TV up to this point in his career, which explains why he relies a lot on aerial footage, time-dated establishing shots, and other sturdy, if rudimentary, techniques to make 21 Bridges feel more like a movie and less like a TV episode made on a bigger budget. As a whole, it's stylistically generic, but otherwise passable.
21 Bridges has changed release dates twice in the past six months, and it's easier to understand why once you see the film. There's nothing aggressively bad about it; there's just nothing especially good about it, either. It's a bit too predictable to excel as a summer thrill ride, but isn't brainy enough to satisfy as a dramatic fall offering. This leaves the movie in an awkward position where it's too well-polished and acted to be relegated to one of Hollywood's annual dumping grounds, yet doesn't stand out in a sea of bigger tentpoles and Oscar hopefuls. Much like its protagonist, 21 Bridges mostly gets the job done (as far as acceptable B-movie entertainment goes), but feels like it ought to leave a stronger impression than it does.
21 Bridges is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 99 minutes long and is rated R for violence and language throughout.
- 21 Bridges (2019) release date: Nov 22, 2019