Directed by Brian Kirk, an experienced TV director with shows like Penny Dreadful and Game of Thrones (pre-season 8) under his belt, it’s no wonder that 21 Bridges feels like the extended version of an episode from a tense, but ultimately generic, police action series. Though it starts off with a promising premise—a manhunt for two cocaine robbers turned killers under particularly suspicious circumstances—the film puts too much focus on a mediocre plot with a painfully obvious twist, and not enough on the potential tension and thrills that should’ve been inherent in a race against the clock.
For those who first saw Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, he doesn’t stray too far from the Marvel Mothership, with 21 Bridges being produced in part by the Russo brothers, the directors behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Endgame. The film follows Andre Davis, played by Boseman, a detective known as the “cop who kills cop killers” as his father died on the job defending himself from junkies. Davis calls for Manhattan to lockdown after a robbery gone wrong leaves eight police officers dead. Boseman is also joined by a barely recognisable Sienna Miller, playing Frankie Burns, the narcotics detective Andre is paired with to hunt down the suspects. Surprisingly, our antagonists also take on leading roles; the deadly duo Michael and Ray (Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch respectively) are front and centre almost as much as Boseman, and with the action starting from their perspective, it’s the first sign that this countdown action flick has a few interesting, though predictable, tricks up its sleeve.
The real mystery begins when Michael and Ray, our small-time criminals, stumble across a stash of 300kgs of cocaine when they were looking for 30kg. Suspicions continue to arise when a group of cops show up and the heist turns into a massacre, with Ray killing every cop they come across while Michael reluctantly watches and escapes with his partner. This turns out to be an important aspect of Michael’s character as he is clearly set up to be the sympathetic one in the pair. As we jump perspectives between Andre and Michael, they unravel a conspiracy that most of the audience could see coming.
Boseman tries his best to bring Andre to life on the screen but isn’t really given much to work with, his character instead coming off as emotionless and with no real sense of personality. Likewise, all the characters are similarly one-note, and seem more like stereotypes of police officers rather than actual people. Even Frankie, with her over the top Brooklyn accent, acts as a caricature of a cop. The only real exception is Michael, who goes through somewhat of a redemption ark throughout the film, though the credit should go to Stephan James and not the screenwriter.
While the plot struggles to stay surprising, the film shines in its action sequences enough for you to forget about the underdeveloped characters and plot holes, if only for a little while. The shoot outs and chase scenes aren’t anything flashy like some other comparable recent action flicks but that isn’t a bad thing. Instead, Kirk creates tension in a more efficient and sometimes brutal way, neither shying away from the violence nor centering the film around it. Instead, the action is both thrilling and interesting, propelling the plot and characters forward rather than acting as just an over the top centrepiece.
Ultimately, I enjoyed 21 Bridges despite its plot issues and felt genuine tension in the fast-paced action scenes. However, in the end I was left wishing for a movie that brought more to the table than stale storylines and stereotypes.
21 Bridges is in cinemas now.