A lot of times when I’m behind on a movie and I say I’m going to give it a chance it doesn’t actually happen but in the case of “21 Bridges” I did actually find the time to see it even a week late. Cop thrillers are a dime a dozen but when you put names like Chadwick Boseman and J.K. Simmons down as stars and the Russo Brothers as producers it does turn some heads. Add in notable television director Brian Kirk and you have an interesting mix with potential for a fun product. “21 Bridges” focuses on Boseman’s NYPD officer Andre Davis who becomes the lead officer in a manhunt for two small time criminals in the dead of night in Manhattan. Determined to catch the culprits who killed multiple officers during an attempted cocaine robbery Davis has all entries and exits to the city shut down, including all 21 bridges onto the island, to keep the suspects from escaping and calls all hands on deck to “flood the island with blue”. It sounds like a fun setup, but does it offer enough to stand out among the other formulaic cop thrillers out there? Let’s find out. This is my review of “21 Bridges”.
I will say that “21 Bridges” is a fun, tight, and short action thriller that offers plenty to keep you invested and engaged throughout its 1.5 hour run time, but it suffers from a lack of imagination and an unwillingness to deviate from genre clichés. But let’s focus on the positives first. “21 Bridges” is a great time at the movies if that’s all you’re looking for. There’s plenty of action, car chases, well-choreographed and designed gun fights and even a little bit of mystery as we, and the characters, discover slowly that all is not what it seems. Chadwick Boseman as the leading man is also a great addition to the film. Boseman’s stoic and confident law enforcer Andre Davis is a great, neutral leading character and a fun protagonist to follow. Boseman presents a poise and passion for policing that’s convincing and avoids some of the more over the top portrayals we see in other cop thrillers. I’ll also say some of the writing, not all but some, was pretty fun and snappy especially one moment where Boseman’s Andre makes a crack about an FBI agent using the word “trigger” and having to be careful with his diction when he speaks. We get several moments like this in the film that help elevate the dialogue from generic to passable and fun.
Sadly, most of the rest of the film falls into generic territory, but there are other standout performances like J.K Simmons and Sienna Miller as well as Stephan James as one of the two culprits on the run but none of them really rise to Boseman’s level of dedication to his role. I did enjoy some of the camera work and the way certain things like gun battles were filmed especially the often-graphic nature in which officers and antagonists were picked off, but there’s always this sense of familiarity that permeates the movie. I felt like the film wanted to take some chances but only took certain risks in order to try and do its own thing while also giving fans what they have come to expect from these kinds of movies. This results in an overall middle of the road experience that is above the average cop thriller but nowhere near good enough to be a truly memorable or lasting entry in the genre.
Part of the problem is the unwillingness to commit to its main plot. In the trailers “21 Bridges” was advertised as a film about a manhunt for a pair of cop killers that forces Manhattan to close. The manhunt does, in fact, happen but it eventually takes a back seat to a larger conspiracy, one any genre enthusiast will see coming from a mile away that downgrades a pretty cool idea to generic territory leaning on overused and frankly outdated twists and turns to stretch out the run time. I really do feel like there was so much more potential in the manhunt concept than was explored in this film. Halfway through I had already figured out the film’s inevitable conclusion which kind of spoiled the third act for me although it was satisfying to see how Boseman’s character brought everything home and served justice where it truly belonged. The final scenes also try to incorporate some social subtext to create some justification of the true villain’s actions and motivations but it all falls flat when you, once again, realize it’s all borrowed material even if “21 Bridges” pulls it off better than many movies of the past.
To but is plainly your enjoyment of this film will very much depend on exactly what you want to get from it. “21 Bridges” is a lot of fun and its short run time makes it a worthy waste of time if you’re looking for some escapism and police-based thrills. However, its lack of originality and dependence on clichés prevents it from really reaching its full potential. On the plus side it’s not one of those films where I can say “it’s been done before and been done better” because “21 Bridges” does pull everything off nicely and in much better ways than other movies of this kind. Still, it’s really hard to ignore the overwhelming familiarity that comes with it if you’re looking for something new or original to tide you over. In the end I enjoyed it but I’ll probably forget it on a month or two or even in a few weeks. Give it a view yourself and see how much you agree. At worst it’s an enjoyable mishmash of all the repetitive things we’ve come to enjoy from these kinds of films.