Directed by: Brian Kirk
Premise: A New York City police detective (Chadwick Boseman) is tasked with tracking down a pair of armed robbers who killed several police officers following a botched robbery. The cop and the criminals realize that the volatile situation is more complex than it first appears.
What Works: 21 Bridges is an intense street drama that is reminiscent of Michael Mann films like Heat and Miami Vice. The action scenes are very effective. The set pieces are gritty and kinetic and possess an efficient brutality in the way they are staged and filmed. The movie is shot through with an energy that doesn’t subside even when the film slows down for exposition. The story of 21 Bridges is mostly smart and the film has a feel for its location. The characters are vivid and interesting. Chadwick Boseman plays the detective who leads the investigation and Boseman’s character is caught between conducting an investigation while also appeasing political interests in the case and reining in his fellow officers’ lust for revenge. J.K. Simmons plays a morally compromised police captain but Simmons has an empathetic approach to the character. Especially interesting are the criminals played by Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch. They are complex characters who have been thrust into circumstances way beyond anything they planned and the criminals come across panicked and desperate rather than simplistic villains. That’s something 21 Bridges does especially well. Equivocating between cops and criminals is a cliché in the crime genre and it is frequently lazy storytelling. This film offers a nuanced portrait of everyone involved and embraces moral complexity without being reductive.
What Doesn’t: 21 Bridges has a few hiccups in its plotting. The story hinges on a few coincidences and the big twists are obvious and telegraphed early on. The streets of New York City are surprisingly empty; the city that supposedly never sleeps is apparently on an extended coffee break for most of this movie. But 21 Bridges is less about shocking plot twists and more about the evolving moral complexity of the situation. Unfortunately, the story undoes a lot of that in the ending. Rather than embracing the moral dilemmas, the filmmakers of 21 Bridges tie up everything too neatly. The climax comes across tacked on and the attempt to resolve everything paradoxically opens all sorts of new questions that the film does not answer.
Bottom Line: 21 Bridges is an entertaining thriller. The movie could be more than that and it almost is if not for its obtuse ending. Despite its flaws, 21 Bridges is sufficiently exciting.
Episode: #779 (December 8, 2019)