No matter what side of the tracks you find yourself on, eventually they always converge…
While 21 Bridges is far from an original crime drama, it does just enough to give us a genuine character driven story of men on opposite sides of the law whose perspectives on right and wrong aren’t nearly as different as you might think.
An embattled NYPD detective (Chadwick Boseman) is thrust into a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers after uncovering a massive and unexpected conspiracy. As the night unfolds, lines become blurred on who he is pursuing, and who is in pursuit of him. When the search intensifies, extreme measures are taken to prevent the killers from escaping Manhattan as the authorities close all 21 Bridges to prevent any entry or exit from the iconic island.
It certainly doesn’t do anything to reinvent the storytelling wheel but 21 Bridges works as a lean and mean piece of character driven storytelling in the backdrop of one night gone horribly horribly wrong.
While this may only be the second feature for veteran TV director Brian Kirk, his extensive experience serves him quite well on this one. The very nature and premise of the story requires it all to move and a brisk clip and he does that while make sure to touch on all the bases that he needs to. The action is well staged; neat, nasty and compact which is what it should look like while in the middle of a chase on the streets of New York.
The script from Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan has a believable grit to it as the issues of race and police corruption all ring out rather loud and effectively allowing for some moments of genuine character development that allows us to get invested in all the players as well as just the right amount of nastiness because this ride is essentially a man hunt where all but one man are operating under the conditions of shooting first and asking questions later. The drama and the action all work because nothing really happens in dramatic flourishes and it just gets taken too far before we even realize how deeply down the rabbit hole that we are.
Chadwick Boseman (who also serves as a producer) does a great job here as Andre Davis; an embattled NYPD detective who doesn’t have a lot of problems with taking down the bad guy by any means necessary, especially when he doesn’t have a choice. His character wears the baggage of having a cop father who died in the line of duty very well and it adds layers to his performance because there’s a difference between a man hell bent on getting justice and a man knowing what the definition of justice actually is.
While there’s a compelling supporting cast around him in the likes of Keith David, JK Simmons, Sienna Miller and Taylor Kitsch they don’t get a whole lot to do. Toronto’s own Stephan James is really the other side of the character coin in this one.
Both James and Boseman are playing men of conscience who have been formed by the circumstances around them. They both see a little bit of themselves in the other man’s eyes, it what drives Boseman to go for a result that most around him aren’t looking for while James’ character conveys are tortured honesty about himself because while this one time attempt to improve his situation just goes horribly awry. It’s a reminder that everything can turn on a dime and nothing is ever as it seems, especially when James’ character truly realizes the mess that he has stumbled into on this fateful night.
It’s yet another solid performance from James who is coming that much closer to becoming a truly viable leading man, because he’s got genuine on screen presence but always puts in the work to finding the core of any character that he plays.
When all is said and done; 21 Bridges is a solid crime thriller in the vein of several that came out of the 1990’s. It’s not going to be confused for high art, but it’s a solid little piece of entertainment that actually has something meaningful to say at the same time.