21 Bridges and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Films
Directed by Brian Kirk
Look, the holiday season is a busy time and this one slipped through the cracks, alright? Besides, even if this movie hasn’t been in theaters since Disney Plus came out, it still has SOME value… at least once the blu ray comes out… right? Eh, whatever. I’ve got a To Do list for the end of the year, and we’re putting a little check next to this one right the heck now. Is this cop thriller a fun little distraction from the rest of the big movies that came out in the last two months, or is there a reason I kept pushing this one to the back burner until it was well past the point of being relevant? Let’s find out!!
Super Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is called to the scene of a gruesome crime. A bunch of cops were found dead at the scene of a drug robbery and the two suspects have disappeared with a large amount of cocaine. Said suspects are Michael and Ray (Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch) who we learn were not expecting THAT much coaine to be there, let alone any cops, and so they have to find a way to get out of town and probably even further than that as soon as possible with the drugs they took being their best bargaining chip in the seedy underbelly of organized crime in the city. Andre however is hot on their heels along with his temporary partner Frankie (Sienna Miller) from Narcotics that seems to be particularly invested in this case along with Captain McKenna (JK Simmons) who was in charge of all the officers gunned down during this raid. Andre’s big plan to catch the crooks is to shut down the island of Manhattan (which includes it’s TWENTY-ONE BRIDGES) to any traffic in or out and hopefully root out the two bad guys before they can escape without a trace, but as Ray and Michael work their way through dealers, contacts, and Swiss bank account dudes to try and secure safe passage, they may have come across some information that puts an even bigger target on their backs than the ones they already had. Will Andre be able to find these two and uncover the mystery of wat exactly happened this night? What secrets did Ray and Michael learn, and is it their ticket to freedom or their ultimate death sentence? Most importantly, is this a role worthy of the king of Wakanda!?
Similar to Ford v Ferrari, this is yet another movie that’s very committed to being a faithful exemplar of its genre; in this case a by-the-numbers cop movie. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, then this is absolutely a movie you should go out and see because while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel in the slightest, it’s got a degree of polish that you hardly see in these kinds of movies (I’m looking at you, Triple 9) and moves at a fast and exhilarating pace so that it never becomes tedious or overstays it’s welcome. The problem though is that where Ford v Ferrari would be at worst of no particular interest to a certain segment of the audience, this is the kind of movie that will actively repel people, especially at this particular moment in time. Police brutality and a culture of protecting their own ranks before enforcing law and order have been in the spotlight for the last few years which has certainly cast a shadow on the entire cop genre of entertainment, and while this at least has the intent of not glorifying those practices, it does have a few moments that feel rather tone oblivious and end up dampening an otherwise solid thriller.
The main reason to watch this movie is for its pacing and its style. Not necessarily it’s story or acting which alternates between competent and problematic given the subject matter, but we’ll get to that soon enough. There’s an energy and menace to it all that makes the situation feel incredibly precarious where every character is in danger from something even if we’re not quite sure what it is. The island itself being such a densely packed metropolis becomes as big a source of peril as anything else in the film as it allows for more eyes to be on you at any given moment while also providing lots of hiding spots and labyrinthine mazes for threats to lurk in. It’s pretty engaging to watch as things escalate little by little as each step in the two criminals’ plan requires more and more desperation until it all starts blowing up right in their faces and yet they have no choice but to keep going further and further after that. Sadly Chadwick Boseman’s cop drama isn’t nearly as compelling and feels kind of shallow all things considered (the mystery isn’t THAT hard to unravel), but they do provide a nice counterbalance to the more visceral action scenes we get following the other two around.
Everything else about the movie is just fine. The acting is fine but no one is trying to add much to the by the numbers dialogue they’ve been given; not even Chadwick Boseman who just seems to be at about a seven as far as intensity and never really waivers from it. If anyone stands out in this, it’s Taylor Kitsch and Stephen James as the two criminals who bumbled their way into something they weren’t ready for and are scrambling to find a way out. James in particular has a really strong presence here as a guy who is scared out of his mind but is also really good at focusing that energy to the task at hand and I’d really like to see him in more stuff. Kitsch has the less impactful role, but he brings a charm all his own as the possibly less competent but much more experienced of the group that reminded me a bit of Ben Foster’s role in Hell or High Water (boy it’s been a while since I thought of THAT movie). Everyone else though is just kind of going through the motions; particularly Sienna Miller who has much more to do than she’s willing to give in this role, and while JK Simmons an Keith David are at about the same level of giving a crap, they at least have less screen time to tire us out with. The narrative is also fine as it actually reminded me a little bit of Good Time in that the criminal characters are making increasingly bad and desperate decisions throughout the story, but there’s a distinct lack of impact to it here where Good Time if nothing else made you FEEL every moment of Robert Pattinson’s ridiculous little saga. As fun as the action and chases are, they feel kind of hollow and the movie lacks any sort of meaning… until the very end and that’s where we run into the big issue.
The ending is where the movie truly falters which means that we’re gonna have to get POLITICAL right now, so for those who gasp in horror at the idea of bringing real world issues into a discussion on film, you will probably want to check out right about now. Essentially, the movie takes a good ten minutes at the end to explain its message which boils down to how bad cops cannot be tolerated and that they have to be rooted out by good coms if they are to have any right to take on this duty in the first place… but maybe bad cops aren’t straight up evil and that institutional changes that benefit them will improve things for everyone. So here’s why that’s a problem, and for the record I am by no means an expert on these topics. The issue with policing in this country is not a few bad apples (side note: How did the expression A Few Bad Apples end up being used to mean the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to!? People do realize that the second half of that is SPOIL THE BARREL and what that means, right!?), but is the larger institutionalized set of values and behaviors that lend to many of them to act horribly and many of the rest to allow it to go on with impunity. TO boil it down to isolated bad actors that are then stopped not by widespread policy changes or public accountability but by one good cop with a gun, well it trivializes the wider issue that this movie is clumsily trying to address. It would still be a bit awkward in context, but I wouldn’t have been all that bothered by a movie like this just embraced a more fantastical tone, i.e. the traditional buddy cop setup, but by going for something more high minded without fully grasping the issues at hand, it ultimately brings the criticism upon itself and why the movie ends on such a deflated note.
In the end, it’s not a particularly memorable movie but it definitely has its fun bits as long as you can look past such a tone oblivious ending and the general vibe of a cop movie in general. I MIGHT have recommended seeing this as a matinee if you had nothing better to do, but at this point your only option is to wait for the home release and it probably works best there. I’m sure it’ll show up in your Netflix queue alongside all the other action movies you forgot existed, but this is probably better than most of them albeit not significantly so. Probably not the most exciting note to end my 2019 reviews on, but there it is. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!