Directed By Brian Kirk
Starring – Chadwick Boseman, J.K Simmons, Sienna Miller
The Plot – Thrust into a citywide manhunt for a duo of cop killers, NYPD detective Andre Davis (Boseman) begins to uncover a massive conspiracy that links his fellow police officers to a criminal empire and must decide who he is hunting and who is actually hunting him. During the manhunt, Manhattan is completely locked down for the first time in its history; no exit or entry to the island including all 21 bridges.
Rated R for violence and adult language throughout
– Atmospheric shot composition. New York is an easy target for depicting an after hours crime thriller, but the work delivered from cinematographer Paul Cameron offers a visual siesta of meaningful frames and neon lighting scheme to further play into the gritty appeal of the big apple. There’s a naturally illustrated luster or gloss to much of the frames per second that tangles with the often suffocating atmosphere maintained from the constant paranoia enveloped in the heat of the conflict, and while it can sometimes feel too clean when contrasted in the seedy neighborhoods and characters we embrace, it does produce a surprisingly endearing quantity of style that often isn’t present in the abundance of cop thrillers. On top of this, every once in a while Cameron hangs subtle irony over our heads, like the shot involving Andre’s moral dilemma between two sides, with an American flag hanging over his head. This is to signify what’s hanging in the balance while two sides almost quite literally burn the world down around them, from the level of social commentary where everyone has to take a side.
– Rating with a bang. “21 Bridges” earns every bit of its coveted R-rating, bringing a barrage of brutality and bullets that build the stakes one blow at a time. Sure the vulgarity is there, mostly when the scenes of tension start to mount, and the race against the clock seems more desperate than ever, but it’s the unabashed quality of violence that not only provided the perfect resounding emphasis to where each sequence ends, but also echoes the kind of permanence that is grounded in devastating realism. During the 90’s, these were my go-to’s, when cop procedurals like “Oxygen” or “Copland” visually elaborated at the kind of horrors that our men and women in blue have to deal with everyday, and while “21 Bridges” doesn’t quite equal the never-ending amount of bloodshed that hits the ground, it does pack several convincing reminders of the spontaneous danger that lurks behind every corner.
– Thunderous action. While the close-knit angles during scenes of amplified tension don’t allow us to enjoy things from a street citizen perspective, the impact felt during car crash jump scares and on-foot chases do more than enough to rattle with fledging intensity. Most of the credit belongs to a sound design that offers the biggest argument why this film should be seen on the big screen, with a series of whizzing bullets and erupting collisions that jolted me each time, but there’s enough of a grip of professionalism on Kirk’s direction that rivets audiences to the physical game of chess taking place nearly every twenty minutes, refusing to ever get redundant or stale because of the change-up in scenery that is much appreciated. These certainly aren’t the best action sequences that I have seen in 2019, but there’s enough positivity in the craft maintained to rattle its way towards one of the more destructively satisfying watches, which surprisingly aren’t given away in a trailer that was more than revealing consistently.
– Deep cast. The trio of Simmons, Miller, and Stephan James offer enough of a big screen presence and performing depth to the complexity of their characters, all the while shifting in and out of frame accordingly where the screenplay requires them to, but it’s Boseman’s near perfect focus and professional consistency that reminds how far this leading man has transformed in such a small amount of years at the focus of some insightful films. “21 Bridges” is no different, as Boseman’s Andre is caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war, during a time when many African Americans and police officers stand on opposite sides of the fence, and while you see much of this resonating on the urgency of Chadwick’s deliveries, it’s his suave swagger that constructs one of the more determined performances of his young career. He’s composed in scenes of firepower, articulate in scenes of investigation, and controlled considering he not only stands in the middle of simmering war zone, but also while holding the emotional baggage of losing a father in the field of battle when he was only 13-years-old. Boseman proves once more that his range knows no boundaries, and even in a movie as flawed as this one, he makes a constant effort to elevate the material in a way that constantly made me wonder what if the screenplay brought the same passion that he did.
– Brisk pacing. At 93 minutes long, this film never overstays its welcome or overcomplicates the amount of wiggle room in direction that an investigation like this could possibly entail. There are some satisfying, yet predictable twists that keep audiences engaged, and allows the dynamic of the chase to be tweaked every so often, right before it gets complacent for remaining grounded and in place for so long. Likewise, the jumbling of both sides, good and evil, constantly kept me engaged, and attempted a hearty amount of exposition that really helped shape them in methods that might not justify their actions, but do give food for thought in a predicament where there’s always more that meets the eye. There was never a point in this film where I was bored or frequently checking my watch, and I believe that if you buy into the characters, you will buy into the endurance of the brief runtime, which feels perfect where it stands.
– Irresponsible. It seems strange that a movie with such a contemporary conflict in today’s social landscape misses the opportunity to dig slightly deeper, and offer a grade of poignancy that feels desired in a film with an African American cop protagonist. That alone should be enough to feel the crippling confines of two sides trying so desperately to influence him to lean one way or another, but like October’s “Black and Blue”, it doesn’t even attempt to approach this subject matter with any semblance of originality or attention that is so deservingly requires. “21 Bridges” could’ve certainly been a game-changing film similar to what “The Hate U Give” did in 2017, but it seems satisfied being just a popcorn flick for moviegoers not interested in fleshing out social commentary to take with them, and stands as the biggest disappointment in a movie with no shortage of them.
– Undercooked script. The series of tropes and cliches of this bountiful subgenre are more than prominent throughout the movie, they are practically a cut-and-paste job of other, better films that knew and understood exactly what they were. Aside from the familiarity of what has come before it, the predictability of this script didn’t surprise me in any way that I didn’t sniff out within the opening twenty minutes of this film. This is of course where it feels more like a movie than ever before, as the central conflict that plays ever so prominently during the film’s trailers, is resolved with 37 minutes left in the movie, leaving obvious tricks up the sleeves of the screenwriters that could be telegraphed by Ray Charles. Finally, the movie’s title itself is every bit forgettable as the lack of originality that dooms this movie from ever attaining a passing grade. It’s a safe, limited description of what’s encased inside, and will only have the appeal of a trivia question as time goes on, for people trying to remember just what film that was when brought up in friendly discussions.
– Logic stretches. This is the kind of investigative procedural where a detective basically has the shining without ever staying at the Stanley Hotel. I say this because Boseman’s Davis is able to produce unforeseen movements of his adversaries after only seeing brief glimpses of the crime scenes. Unfortunately, it’s not a Sherlock Holmes thing, where we get flashbacks of everything playing out before us, but rather just Andre verbally explaining everything in a way that had me shouting out “WHAT?” several times throughout. This is a stretch even for a detective as experienced as he is, and the overall lack of trouble with his investigation not only annoyed me for how cut-and-dry everything was that he accurately conjured out of thin air, but also never challenged him in a way that supplanted some much needed vulnerability for the character. It’s basically a superhero narrative, and he’s T’Challa, just trading in a kickass jumpsuit for a button-up and Dockers.
– Missing actor. This is a short one, but why would you cast terrific character actor Keith David if you had nothing for him besides two lines of dialogue in the entire film? This is every bit as baffling as 2015’s “Prisoners”, where Andy Garcia had no lines throughout the entire movie, and only appeared in one of the very last shots of the movie. Especially in a film that deals with corrupt officers, why not use David in a way that benefits him and the screenplay, especially for how close to Andre’s family he is, that is established early on in the film. It’s possible that a majority of Keith’s scenes were left on the cutting room floor, but to cast a constant professional like Keith David, and not use him to even a quarter of his abilities is not only insulting for the range of this cherished figure, but also compromising to the integrity of the film, for disappointing Keith fans like myself, who perk up every time we see him.
– Thin characterization. This is entirely with Boseman’s Andre, which only stands as a testament to Chadwick’s capabilities, for exceeding with a character what is insubstantially limited on the page. The opening scene of the movie takes place during Andre’s cop father’s funeral, and stands as what I deem as the single most important scene of the film, for how it illustrates Andre’s drive to make right of the biggest wrong of his life. Other than this, the father’s untimely death is mentioned once more during the movie, with such little impact or exposition for why the event is so important to even mention again, minus of course the obvious of it being Andre’s cop father. For my money, I could’ve used slightly more exposition for Andre, especially more with his mentally unstable mother, whom he has promised to keep with him wherever he goes. The script does a big disservice to fleshing out his character, and makes him just another of the stream of police officer faces that overcrowd the movie and the 85th precinct.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+