Updated: Feb 9, 2020
21 Bridges is a fast-paced action thriller with an intriguing, tension building, premise and a charismatic lead. The first half is pretty exciting, so it is ultimately disappointing that the screenplay gets distracted by unnecessary twists. It certainly did not help that I guessed the basics of what was really going on as soon as the major characters were introduced. There is nothing wrong with a straightforward action plot about a good guy chasing bad guys. When 21 Bridges sticks to that, focusing on its hero’s quest, it is crafty and thrilling. When it complicates things, it is much less so. I liked it enough to be let down with the way it handled the revelations contained in the final act. Up until then, this is solid entertainment.
Andre Davis is a police officer who was driven toward that life after his father was killed in the line of duty. He has a reputation for being especially hard on cop killers and has been involved in quite a few shootings. Two men hired to steal cocaine discover far more than they expected and find their robbery interrupted by cops, who they are forced to shoot. With a bunch of police officers dead, Andre is called in to find their killers before they disappear. His solution is to close all exits from Manhattan, giving him several hours to find these men.
The initial plot sets up all the suspense we need: a good cop has only a limited amount of time to get justice before the bad guys escape. Confusing matters is the men from the dead officers’ precinct who are more interested in avenging their friends than in the law. That right there is enough story to keep viewers’ attention for its 92 minute running time (without the end credits). You have an easy to understand conflict (a cop chasing two cop killers), plus a pair of believable obstacles (time and revenge). Then, the screenplay (by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan) tosses in an additional element that diminishes the suspense: the bad guys seem to have stumbled onto something bigger than a cocaine robbery gone wrong. On top of the murders, there is now a conspiracy to uncover.
I have absolutely no issues with complicated plotting. Sometimes, that is where the fun in the story resides. My problem with 21 Bridges is the complications take away from the entertaining stuff and add nothing we have not already seen elsewhere. It is not used in a way that supplies extra tension or excitement. It is obvious and dull, making an engaging thriller uninteresting at the worst possible time.
What holds it together for the most part is the built-in sense of urgency, the skillfully choreographed shoot-outs and the central performance from Chadwick Boseman. Boseman made himself known to film buffs playing iconic real life figures like Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. He became much better known after joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Panther. He is a powerful actor able to bring believability to even the most out-there moments. I could buy in to the world of Black Panther because of him. It is the same here. Though Andre is only given the briefest of backstories, Boseman makes him an appealing hero. Somehow, you can sense what emotions he is going through, despite the movie not really dealing with them. He has a great presence, which barely keeps things going once they begin heading down a lesser path.
21 Bridges has the makings of a solid adult action movie, featuring some nice genre pleasures. It breaks no new ground, but does what it does fairly well. And then it does not. The screenplay is too clever for its own good and then not nearly clever enough. It is unable to stick the landing, limping to its finish after a promising start. It is entirely possible what I am complaining about will not bother you. You may see the good and shrug off the rest. Regardless, there is enough here for me to recommend it, just not as enthusiastically as I initially thought.
3 out of 5
Chadwick Boseman as Andre Davis
Stephan James as Michael
Taylor Kitsch as Ray
Sienna Miller as Frankie Burns
J.K. Simmons as Captain McKenna
Directed by Brian Kirk
Screenplay by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan