21 Bridges is a throwback action film that has all the elements needed for a Noble Detective vs. The Precinct plot.
Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is a trigger-happy NYPD detective that’s known for shooting suspects first and asking questions later. After eight police officers are killed in what appears to be a robbery, a massive conspiracy begins to unfold. The bread crumbs from the shootout lead Davis and Burns (Sienna Miller) to two shooters – Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch).
Davis orders all transportation in and out of Manhattan to be shut down for four hours. NYPD officers flood the island in an attempt to flush the two shooters out. Meanwhile, Davis is looking to get answers from Michael and Ray while the other officers are out for blood.
There’s a reason there are far less cop action movies like these. Over the years, these films have become believable. 21 Bridges is a film that feels a decade too late. It’s a film that works in an era where we don’t have high profile police corruption cases on the news every month. What we have in 2019 is something we didn’t have in 2009: A lot of information about how these situations actually play out. It’s hard to suspend disbelief when much of the how and why if the plot is rooted in reality but the outcomes are a fictional fantasy.
The unbelievable aspects of the story aren’t an indictment on the film or the cast. The action, although chaotic at times, is wildly entertaining. The predictable final act is sprinkled with moments of enjoyment. The plot moves at fast pace and there’s enough twist and turns to keep audiences glued to the screen.
Chadwick leads a very talented cast that includes Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons, Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch, and the immortal Keith David. With most of the film focused on Davis putting together puzzles at crime scenes like Rain Main, the story doesn’t spend much time with the other (and more interesting) characters. Kitsch plays the expertly trained shooter/unhinged partner very well – every action movie needs a character like him. Everything is in play when that character is involved. Michael is the smarter of the two shooters and it’s evident with every decision he makes. Stephan James is a star in the making and does a great job with the script he’s given. He even shines during one of the many unnecessary standoff scenes. Kitsch and James have great chemistry together. The film could’ve used more of those two trying to find a way off the island and less scenes with cops driving around and Davis showing up at a crime scene for 30 seconds until he gets another phone call. It’s literally crime scene musical chairs for a solid 30 minutes.
It’s unclear if Chadwick is an action star outside of his Panther suit. He’s not allowed to do much action but what he does do well is talk crazy to anyone that challenges him. He’s really good at cursing people out but the jury is still out on him carrying an action franchise outside of the MCU.
The best sequences are the opening shootout with the cops and Michael being chased by Davis. These two scenes have the most action in the entire film. The rest of the film isn’t boring, just not as engaging and action packed as these moments.
What works in 21 Bridges: The film takes a tired action movie trope and makes an entertaining film. There is no reason this film should be as entertaining as it is. What doesn’t work: The film found a way to waste all the talent by strapping them with 2 dimensional characters. Why? If the film was focused on Michael and Ray it’s a different movie and also a much better movie.
Hopefully 21 Bridges is an end of an era for these films. They hyper realistic films with the nursery rhyme endings aren’t working anymore. Those endings don’t serve the film; they only make the story feel out of touch and the film outdated before it even hits theaters.