There were hardly any ‘modern cop films’ before Steve McQueen’s Bullitt and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in the late 60s and the early 70s. Both these films changed the way police procedurals were made – they had good cops surviving in a corrupt world where every other person was carrying a secret, but them. Brian Kirk’s 21 Bridges is made in the same vein, but despite a popular leading man and having its heart in the right place, the film fails to make it into the same category. In fact, it starts as a police procedural on TV and ends within 90 minutes which is the usual time for a pilot of a TV cop show. It lacks the exact things that differentiate a film and a TV show, hence we get a film that could have been a contender, in an accomplished director’s hands.
Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is a decorated cop who follows his dad’s legacy; he was a respected cop before he attained martyrdom. Andre cares about his mother, knows the city like the back of his hand and is respected by his fellow officers. When two criminals murder as many as seven police officers after a shootout over drugs, Andre plans to capture them by using a method unthinkable to all. He closes the 21 Bridges of New York and uses the whole police force to find out the whereabouts of the cop killers so that he can apprehend them, alive. Unknown to him, the two criminals – Michael and Ray – are pawns in a much bigger game that involves murder, drugs, and those who promise to uphold the law.
The film boasts of an ensemble cast led by Boseman and also features JK Simmons, Sienna Miller, Keith David, and Alexander Siddig. It shows the believable tussle between NYPD and the FBI, as well as a plan to block 21 Bridges, hence the name. There are a number of scenes featuring Boseman and Academy Award Winner J K Simmons (Marvel’s Black Panther and J Jonah Jameson) which are impressive, considering they both complement each other by giving brilliant performances. The thing that gives the film an edge over other flicks is that in the first half-hour, the cop-killing incident takes place, the good guy’s credentials are established and both the sides (good and evil) are given equal chances to establish their characters, their motives and their thought-process. There are a few scenes that will shock the audience, and it would be a grave injustice to the film if one reveals them.
Directing a few episodes of Game of Thrones doesn’t make you a film director; had Brian Kirk realized that before he accepted the job, 21 Bridges would have done well. It comes out as a fast-paced cop thriller that turns into a cat-and-mouse chase and ends with a huge twist, but all in the way that would have impressed the TV audience. There were no car chases where cops chased the bad guys, there was no using your deduction skills as everything was done through computers whereas one of the villains resembled the leading man, confusing those who weren’t familiar with either actor.
It lacked action sequences big time and didn’t even have a car chase that would have given the audience thrills and chills. Even The French Connection that came out nearly 5 decades back had more action scenes than 21 Bridges with an impressive car chase and an ability to keep the audience hooked to their seats. It seems that the film’s writer ran out of ideas and was asked to insert all kinds of ideas to take the time duration past 90 minutes. A good director would have noticed that and would have made the writer rework the script; a bad director would have made 21 Bridges.
The Verdict 2.5/5
This is a Chadwick Boseman film that even he would like to forget; after playing Black Panther in multiple Marvel Cinematic Universe films, he shouldn’t have done 21 Bridges, because it is anything but a film. TV director Brian Kirk does try to make his first major Hollywood film look like something out of the box, but it sort of comes back in a box than do well at the box office. It is a fast-paced thriller that features a few twists and turns that you don’t expect but its 2019, and until and unless you make a flick that wows the audience, it shouldn’t be made.
It had all the ingredients of a good TV show where the first adventure will be followed by more cases, but that doesn’t happen here. The supporting cast had nothing much to do because Boseman was posed as the ‘Avenger’ who would get the job done. But is one ‘Avenger’ enough to rid the city of crime, that’s a million-dollar question. How the Russo Brothers got associated with the film remains a mystery, considering they are one of the best directors around and would have added value to the script before it went on the floors.