21 Bridges (2019)
21 Bridges (2019)

Genre: Action and Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.

Release Date: November 22nd, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Brian Kirk Actors: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons, Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch, Keith David, Alexander Siddig, Louis Cancelmi, Victoria Cartagena

 


 

A

t Officer Reginald Dean Davis’ funeral service, 13-year-old Andre absorbs the tragic event, his mother’s tears, and the kind words spoken about his father, who died in the line of duty. It inspires him to follow in his father’s footsteps, to the point that 19 years later, Andre (Chadwick Boseman) is now a detective in the New York Police Department. He’s tough when he needs to be, but he never takes a life unless absolutely necessary – though he still harbors a rather high lethality figure that currently sees him grilled by Internal Affairs. And after a thankless triple-shift, he returns home to care for his senile mother, who regularly doesn’t recognize her son. “You gotta look the devil in the eye.”

Just after midnight in Brooklyn, two heavily-armed thugs, Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephan James), break into a bar to steal what they think is a mere 30 kilos of cocaine. But when it turns out to be 300 keys instead, the robbers set to work gathering together over 100 pounds of the drug to drag out the back door. But before they can finish, four policemen show up, causing Ray and Michael to open fire. And then four additional troopers arrive on the scene, once again proving to be no match for the thieves’ superior arsenal. “Eight officers down!”

Captain McKenna’s (J.K. Simmons) 85th Precinct’s men and women are the ones to fall, and he wants blood. And so it’s up to Andre, paired with Narcotics detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), to track down the culprits. With such a chaotic clash in the middle of the night, followed by a red-light-running camera photo, the killers are deemed to be incompetent, prompting Andre to assume that they’ll attempt to sell the drugs quickly in Manhattan rather than leaving the area, which gives them until 5:00 AM before the FBI takes over the investigation. Of course, this will require all 21 bridges out of the city to be locked down to box in the offenders. “… then we flood the island with blue.”

The setup is expected but dependable, encompassing typical cops-and-robbers tropes, such as harsh interrogations, busting down doors, negotiations with drug kingpins, money laundering woes, nightclub confrontations, the dramatic drawing of weapons, trigger-happy cops seeking revenge, hostage scenarios, bureaucratic red tape, and greased palms. And these are routinely interrupted by shootouts. It’s commendably intense, violent, and severe, allowing many of the interactions to feel believable, even if they’re mostly the stuff of movies: action-based interpretations of criminals against authorities. After all, a quiet arrest and a lengthy trial wouldn’t be much fun.

While the tone is consistently sincere and heavy-hitting, there’s nothing new about this story. Nevertheless, it’s still enjoyable to see an unwaveringly righteous lawman wade his way through the mire of crooks and corruption – like a classic Western sheriff (albeit one surrounded by the glamorless environs of hoodlums and bribable fuzz). The pacing is tight and the grimness of the crime drama contribute to decent entertainment.

Amusingly, the premise saunters toward one resembling “The Fugitive,” mixing the murderers into a backdrop of authoritative deceit, yet there’s no question as to who conducted the initial slaughter; it’s not really a matter of clearing names. Still, the film has to go to great lengths not to easily kill off the fleeing perps, especially taking into consideration the technological resources and manpower of the NYPD. Ultimately, every time the plot runs out of twists, it resorts to another chase or stunt sequence or gunfight, which, though suspenseful, feels like a missed opportunity. Avenues for cleverness exist; but this kind of picture relies considerably on the simplicity of bullet-expending thrills. Fortunately, the looming apprehension – or execution – of the suspects isn’t the end of the tale, even if the desire (or perhaps the demand of the producers) to add additional high-stakes showdowns plagues the conclusion, too. “21 Bridges” doesn’t have the nerve to try anything else.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10