When two criminals’ raid on a restaurant leaves several NYPD cops dead at the scene, detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) orders Manhattan to be put on lockdown. He has until 5am to hunt them down — but can he capture them alive, when another senior officer (J.K. Simmons) is baying for blood?
There are three things to know about 21 Bridges. One: it does not star Jeff or Beau Bridges (talk about missing an open goal). Two: it was originally called ‘17 Bridges’, after the number of water-crossings connecting Manhattan to elsewhere, until somebody realised mid-shoot that they’d missed a bunch. Three: it’s the kind of high-concept, low-VFX, grown-up thriller that we really don’t get much of anymore. Think of it as a missing Tony Scott/Denzel Washington team-up from the days of yore, although in terms of both quality and plotting it’s closer to The Taking Of Pelham 123 than Crimson Tide.
The action is slick, brutal and crisply cut.
The actual lead is Chadwick Boseman, taking a break from being Black Panther (even if the word “avenger” is cheekily shoehorned into dialogue early on) to play equally solemn homicide cop Andre Davis. He’s a guy who, as he helpfully explains multiple times, likes to look the devil in the eye. And that habit comes into play when two crooks (Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch) find a simple late-night drugs-snatch spiralling out of control, with seven dead police officers left behind. “Flood the island with blue!” Davis yells, ordering the closure of every possible escape route (the more accurate 21 Bridges And Four Tunnels presumably didn’t score well with focus groups). Cue an adrenalised, high-gloss, countdown-’til-dawn tale, as Davis and his new partner (an impressive, low-key Sienna Miller) hotfoot it around the city in pursuit of two guys who might not be the tale’s only rotten apples.
Director Brian Kirk, who has made episodes of Game Of Thrones and Penny Dreadful, does a decent job elevating this rather slim set-up. The action is slick, brutal and crisply cut, particularly the first-reel raid, in which Kitsch is utterly convincing as a twitchy triggerman. And like the city in which it’s set, the film keeps hustling along, with colourful supporting characters (a drug lord with a penchant for early-hours exercise-bike workouts; a smarmy Sudanese fence) entering and exiting at a brisk clip. Areas of central New York are used smartly, if sometimes a little on-the-nose-ly, with one tense encounter in the Meatpacking District going down inside a store room featuring a lot of pre-packed meat. With hard-boiled dialogue, sleek God’s-eye views of the city and serious talent in supporting roles, you’re not given a chance to get bored.
Even so, an air of overfamiliarity hangs over proceedings. Despite a few early scenes trying to build up his complexity, and a commanding performance, Boseman’s incorruptible blue-suit is ultimately just a little bit dull. And the long-in-development script by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan, which originally featured a much older protagonist, feels both underwritten (after a huge deal is made of how unprecedented it is to shut down Manhattan’s transit links, we never see any consequences to the decision) and overly trope-y (yes, there are smarmy FBI guys, and yes, that guy who often plays shady characters is revealed to be playing a shady character). It’s far from a top-tier action flick, then, but if you go in not expecting too much, or Jeff Bridges, there’s quite a bit to enjoy.
A refreshing break from VFX-laden spectaculars and a throwback to the pulpy cop thrillers of yesteryear, if not quite strong enough to ensure that Boseman’s righteous cop gets his own franchise.