Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 39 minutes, Director – Brian Kirk
A New York detective (Chadwick Boseman) has less than four hours to hunt down two drug-carrying cop killers before they escape Manhattan
“Well, that escalated quickly” is one of the things that comes to mind in the build-up to the more than large-scale manhunt that makes up 21 Bridges. When two criminals (Taylor Kitsch and Stephen James) arrive at a wine shop to steal 30KG of cocaine what they actually find is at least 300, totalling to millions of dollars worth. However, when multiple policemen turn up at the scene they let loose with their weapons and shoot 7 officers dead, alongside the security guard at the shop. It’s not long until ace detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is called in to find the two men who committed this atrocity. In an even shorter amount of time the NYPD cop, despite protests from the FBI, is given full control of the situation; shutting down every entrance and exit to Manhattan for just under four hours in the hope of capturing the two threats.
It’s such a response to this very early on event that also connotes that fact that 21 Bridges – formerly called 17 Bridges until one of the writers realised that there are actually more entrances and exits to the heart of New York City than they initially realised – is a film that seems to want to be taken more seriously than it actually is. Focusing on the gory details of each gun battle between cops and criminals, every escape and the frustration of both parties with what seems to be an attempt at lingering insight. However, the tension that the film wants to create to lead to it being taken as seriously as it would hope is never properly built up, a problem created by the decision to show the perspectives of both the heroes and the villains of the piece.
As the two criminals, Ray and Michael, try to get away, after getting the money they’re owed for stealing the drugs, after the entire mission almost goes wrong, they very much form the central focus of the film. Most of the events seem to be shown from their perspective, as they try to fight off police to escape the city, even if it means running for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile Boseman’s attempts – assisted by Sienna Miller’s feisty narcotics expert Frankie – to stay on the tracks of the duo, always seeming one step behind, appear lacking in tension due to the fact that the audience knows where the pair is; the film not quite leaning into the stresses of Andre’s position and instead bordering on just a frantic rush across Manhattan to find the two criminals.
Amongst all the perfectly serviceable action and the competing perspectives there is undeniably a slight sense of interest within the proceedings. While there would likely be more effect, tension, and potentially mystery, if everything were to be shown from one perspective, the plot plods along with relative consistency, helped by a somewhat concise 99 minute run-time, partly helped by the fairly interesting direction that the film goes in the third act, minus a rather disappointing ending that tries to bring more quiet plot-points to the forefront as if trying to make the film seem clever. But, the focus of the film and relative intrigue that it occasionally creates just about make it worth it. It might meander and stagger throughout its run-time; not helped by the combined use of two perspectives in a not quite cat-and-mouse chase style.
The tension might not be there, however the action is, at times, fairly well done. Mixed with some decent performances, Stephen James often stealing his scenes and making a further name for himself after If Beale Street Could Talk, and his fantastic lead role in 2016’s Race. There’s much confliction and passable ideas throughout 21 Bridges. While it has some moments that help to bring the audience into the world for short bursts of time it does sometimes feel fairly middle of the road and lacking in tension. Overall creating something that wants to be braver and taken much more seriously than it is. It feels like a watered-down version of what it could have been.
While it has some promise the attempt to make a more serious and layered film means that 21 Bridges suffers, it has some good ideas and potential but its early set-up and conflicted perspectives mean that it falters and doesn’t manage to live up to the darker, tenser film it could be.