MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action Thriller/ Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J. K. Simmons, Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch, Keith David, Alexander Siddig, Louis Cancelmi, Victoria Cartagena, Gary Carr, Morocco Omari/ Runtime: 100 minutes
I feel it must be stated that at the core of this film is an idea that is actually not that bad. Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with the meaning behind the title, the title is a reference to a way that individuals are able to get to the island of Manhattan. Thus, this movie then asks, what would happen if a cop over the course of one night had to shut down all of those entrances in order to catch a pair of nefarious cop killers at large? Indeed if you paired this up with a dynamite cast, it isn’t hard to picture a taut and engaging thrill ride that could, with skill and class, twist this stereotypical narrative by making you wonder just who exactly the good guys really are all while watching with abated breath as the crooks involved try to evade capture and keep their butts out of jail or worse.
It is unfortunate to have to tell you then dear reader that this is in no way, shape, form, or fashion what this film consists of. Indeed while this film is gifted with a wonderful cast who does get some interesting character material to work with, we are also getting a film where every new wrinkle that the plot provides is telegraphed so far in advance that you’d swear the filmmakers were just wanting to get this done and in the can as quickly as possible. Indeed while I am used to films of this nature making the wise decision to take a lot of time to build the world and the characters involved and then pay everything off in a way that feels both epic and satisfying, this film is able to accomplish everything it set out to show audiences in 100 minutes, credits included, and as a result it can most certainly feel like this film possesses a break-neck sense of pace that really prohibits you from getting attached to the world or characters of the film in a meaningful way. Thus this movie isn’t bad, but trust me when I say that it could’ve and should’ve been a lot better.
The plot is as follows: 21 Bridges focuses on a man named Andre Davis. Andre we discover is a cop with the NYPD who has a distinct reputation for being quick on the draw even though every single time he has been shown to be in the right for doing so. Other than that particular quirk though Davis is known for being a great detective whose loyalty to the NYPD is unmatched. Suffice it to say then that Davis finds himself in equal measure angry and shock when one night he finds himself summoned to the aftermath of a drug heist gone horrifically awry and resulted in both a civilian casualty as well as that of 8 cops. It is with this set up that Andre finds himself getting shanghai’ d by the c.o. of the murdered cops into partnering up with a narc into catching the perps whatever it takes. Of course when it comes to whatever it takes, Davis decides to do something highly unorthodox and is able to get it arranged so that all forms of transport on the island of Manhattan is promptly shut down until the perps are apprehended with one little caveat. That caveat of course being that Davis has until sunrise to catch them in this manner otherwise all transportation will then be reopened for the daily morning commuters to go about their day.
At the same time we as audiences also follow the perps who are the focus of this manhunt and suffice it to say their issues are a lot more significant than just trying to elude capture by the cops. This is because the lead that this undynamic duo had earned in regards to this heist might not have been the most accurate in the world since instead of 30 kilos of cocaine it may or may not be in the upwards of 300. Now this bumbling pair finds themselves with a significantly higher amount of product than expected and must not only get rid of it, but then also get out of Manhattan without getting caught or killed.
Now usually with a premise of this ilk, it usually is to the benefit of the audience if the story has the criminal element involved usually 2-3 steps ahead of their pursuer thus giving the film the opportunity to showcase some taut and engaging escape sequences and twists and turns to the plot. Unfortunately it appears that this film didn’t pick up on that crucial lesson. This is because while there is potential that can be mined from the fact that the thieves in this cops and robbers tale aren’t the most professional in the criminal underworld, it just plain and simply doesn’t gel when the other side of the coin so to speak is this absolutely talented and resourceful cop. Suffice it to say when most of a film of this type has the main cop breathing down the neck of their quarry virtually right from the word go, it really dampens the enjoyment of the chase and really saps audience engagement on a significant level.
Another serious dilemma that is most certainly not doing this movie any favors whatsoever is the fact that this film is plagued by those horrific film ailments known as inorganic contrivance and ill-placed plot twists. Of course it should also be said that specifics cannot be gotten into here due to my reviews existing as sort of a No Spoiler-esque Twilight Zone. Nevertheless what I feel can be said is that this film sees the “beloved and long awaited” (not really) comeback of one of modern cinema’s favorite plot devices: the flash drive of mystery (ooohhh ahh). Suffice it to say then that with this plot device in play it becomes frustratingly obvious within the first 30 minutes of this film how things are going to play out by the end of everything.
Yet as horrendously limp and under-cooked as this film’s methods of madness in regards to plot may consist of, 21 Bridges does have one key positive going for it. This is a positive which manages to take the form of the development and design of the film’s cast of characters. Indeed this is because quite a few of the main people in this film really are blessed with both engaging characterizations as well as intriguing enough backstory that ultimately they help keep you interested in the film even when everything else is falling apart. Indeed this starts with film lead Chadwick Boseman who with his turn in this continues to show himself worthy of being considered a dependable and terrific lead actor even in films that don’t have a historical or superheroical background to them. Indeed the character of Andre proves to be such an intriguing individual to follow in this movie in a large part because Boseman makes this guy in equal measure both extremely relatable compelling and quite the nuanced figure and it’s truly intriguing getting to watch this character use his intelligence to just as great effect as his physicality throughout even as the situation becomes more complex than he could’ve initially suspected. We also get wonderful performances from both Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James in this as the quarry to Boseman’s relentless hunter. Indeed I think it is safe to say that the duo really does make for an intriguing partnership and they really do have decent chemistry together. Indeed it’s a very unique yet interesting and engaging dynamic that this duo find themselves in and as such it also makes for very taut and engaging entertainment to see just how this mismatched pairing decides to respond on an individual level to the events that befall them. Indeed they are so intriguing to watch that even though the story fails to contribute more chess moves for them to engage in against Boseman, you still find yourself hoping against hope that it ultimately will because of how electric their performances really are.
Finally you would think that if a film is christened with the title 21 Bridges that the odds would be in its favor that there will be at least one action sequence on a bridge….right? Wrong. Astonishingly not only does this film make the incredulous decision not to do this, but it also doesn’t showcase Manhattan as much as you would like to hope it does. Indeed as I have had the privilege of witnessing in numerous other cinematic adventures, the city of New York is rich with cinematic exploration with countless gems still to be utilized. Yet in this film there isn’t any halfway decent effort truly made to explore both the location and the culture of said location that makes it one of the most unique places in the world. I mean I don’t know if this is because, despite the story taking place in Manhattan, this was a film which had the majority of its shoot in Philadelphia (for reasons I can’t possibly begin to fathom), but what I do know is that this simply is void the vibe that a film set in New York should possess, and the film definitely suffers because of it.
All in all I definitely want to make it as clear as possible: 21 Bridges is most certainly not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination so don’t please don’t think that. Rather this is a film which sadly finds itself more at a crossroads so to speak especially when you factor in just who was involved in the making of this film as well as the intriguing premise that is the driving force behind it. Indeed had this film been in possession of second and third acts that were on the same creative level as the first, then I definitely feel this film would a welcome addition to this genre’s Hall of Fame. Instead however this is definitely one film that will exist more as something you put on during a rainy day or when you just want something to help you fall asleep much faster than any melatonin could ever hope to contribute. On a scale of 1-5 I give 21 Bridges a solid 3 out of 5.