In a world where sequels, films-based-on-toys and cinematic universes dominate the box-office (though splashing “produced by the directors of Avengers: Endgame” and starring the Black Panther himself (Chadwick Boseman) means 21 Bridges does cash in on its blockbuster connections), it is nice to see an original big-budget thriller on the big screen.
Irish filmmaker Brian Kirk, a director who earned his spurs behind the camera of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, tightly constructs a story set over a single 12-hour period and located exclusively in Manhattan. 21 Bridges is a smart, thrilling action movie that will win audiences over with an impressive turn from Boseman and a non-stop script at its core.
We begin with Andre Davis at the age of thirteen. His father, a celebrated cop, was slain on the street and Andre’s (Boseman) fearless ambition in life was set. Nineteen years later and he’s a disgraced detective and investigating a drug-heist gone wrong. Seven officers in the 84th Precinct are dead – an eighth in critical condition. McKenna (J.K. Simmons), the station’s Captain, pairs Davis with narcotics officer Burns (Sienna Miller) and together they rush against the clock to hunt down the killers.
The two criminals responsible are Michael (Stephen James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch). Are they victims of a set-up or are they simply lucky, when they find an enormous stash of uncut cocaine? Suffice to say, criminals are not always devious villains and coppers are not always innocent, good guys. Andre, on the other hand, is resolute and focused on getting to the bottom of this mess, resulting in shutting off the bridges and isolating the entire island of Manhattan to catch the men who murdered so many cops.
When Boseman tells us to close the bridges, cancel the trains and loop the subway, it is a moment to savour. The excitement as we buckle up for wall-to-wall action in the drop ahead is among those moments that blockbuster cinema is made for. His central role is expertly cast and certifies Boseman as a leading man for the many movies that will fall into his lap.
21 Bridges also belongs on the cinema-screen. The wide cityscapes, captured by cinematographer Paul Cameron showcase New York in all its glory; dusty and yellow in the early evening, or in black, except for the small squares of lights from the skyscrapers. It is everything we love about the Big Apple and 21 Bridges proudly wallows in its New York setting. Those who know NYC well will appreciate the love for the city here.
21 Bridges is trying to create the atmosphere you can find in Phone Booth or Michael Mann’s Collateral (the latter shares a cinematographer with 21 Bridges). Imagine Line of Duty with a Hollywood glamour, and you’re a little closer. You may be a few steps ahead of the story as it plays out and some of the action sequences are a tad too busy, but the story moves at swift pace and doesn’t let up. The score, by Henry Jackman and Alex Belcher, in its thumping bass and grand use of strings, adds a gravitas to the story that ensures 21 Bridges feels like so much more than an action romp.
It may be a tale of little global consequence and barely makes a critical comment on America’s problematic use of law and order, but this is a fun movie. A thoroughly entertaining joyride, 21 Bridges will satisfy our need for something fresh on the cinema screen.
Fast-paced, energetic and with a strong cast, 21 Bridges basks in the towering urban beauty of New York. While it may not feature on end of year lists, it will be a firm favourite for those who want to escape for an evening of corrupt cops, city-wide man hunts and breathless action sequences.
This review was originally published for HeyUGuys in November 2019