21 Bridges – The film opens with the burial of a cop, a uniformed officer who killed three of the individuals who shot at him before succumbing to his injuries. The cop’s little kid is present, and he will grow up to be police detective André Davis, played by Chadwick Boseman, who will carry the story on. The preaching is impassioned, and the mourning is profound. Director Brian Kirk switches to an overhead picture of the church’s exterior. Taken from a drone, looking right down on the scene from a great height, this is the type of sight you’ve seen hundreds of times.
But this isn’t like any other drone video since the break comes right before the hundreds of officers outside the cathedral fire off a flawlessly timed salute. This is a drone photo that justifies its presence by a meaningful action, one that displays the entire significance of the event through action. This type of smart direction and editing goes a long way toward making “21 Bridges” one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking American dramas in recent memory. Boseman’s character, who is also a co-producer of the film, does a lot of running, driving, gun-pointing, and car-hood slamming, but he also does a lot of thinking—and a lot of navigating.
While there isn’t much explicit discussion of race, he is cast as an African-American officer entering territory that is made all the more hazardous by his skin colour. “21 Bridges” does a great job at making it implied rather than apparent. A white guy and a black guy are the lawbreakers in this film, and boy do they really violate the law: Taylor Kitsch (who is establishing a lucrative niche in character parts) and Stephan James are armed-to-the-teeth small-timer who break into a restaurant to steal 30 kilograms of cocaine from its freezer. However, the weight is closer to 100 kg, and a near-army of cops arrives to apprehend them.
That suits J.K. Simmons’ character as the captain of the deceased officers, who expects Davis to apprehend the perpetrators once he locates them. Davis has a late-night strategy: “flood the island with blue” by closing off Manhattan (thus the title—this requires shutting down 21 bridges, a considerable annoyance even in the early hours of the morning). A narcotics officer and single mother portrayed by Sienna Miller is one blue Davis does not want around him, but she says, “You can use me or fight me,” and considering how keen NYPD brass is for her to be there, he capitulates.
You get the feeling that something isn’t quite right here? So do the robbers played by Kitsch and James, who are depicted in a far more sympathetic light than most cop murderers. Not that “21 Bridges” approves of their behaviour. The Something Rotten In Denmark motif takes hold after the bad men find themselves in a safe home with a “cleaner” whose last orders to the guys are to take a couple of thumb drives with them on the way ahead of the other officers on their pursuit. As he puts the pieces together, Davis knows that he needs to save at least one of these people.
The script, written by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan, isn’t trying to keep the audience guessing with a lot of surprises. Instead, it attempts to keep you involved in Boseman/Davis’ own rationalizations and the moral imperatives he ascribes to each new revelation. But, of course, there are standoffs, shootouts, foot chases, vehicle chases, and more in the film. Kirk does it in a brisk, cost-effective manner. And all in less than an hour and forty minutes. These days it’s no small effort to wrap up an intellectual action thriller with such assuredness, and it’s nice to watch.
21 Bridges (2019) BluRay – 720p
21 Bridges (2019) BluRay – 1080p