Chadwick Boseman’s first project post-Endgame was once again with the Russo Brothers, who are the producers of Brian Kirk’s action thriller, 21 Bridges. A departure from the world of superpowers and fictional locations, 21 Bridges puts Boseman’s character in Manhattan, in a fast-paced, exciting, and at times, messy tale about an NYPD detective. Thankfully, though, the Black Panther himself drives this narrative from start to finish.
21 Bridges tells the tale of an NYPD detective, Andre Davis (Boseman), the son of a murdered police officer. Andre has earned a reputation for killing “cop killers,”. Now he becomes involved in a case involving two “cop killers” that are on the run after stealing cocaine. To try and catch them, Andre asks for all 21 Bridges in Manhattan to be on lockdown, and he has until 5 am to catch both men.
The film starts by excellently introducing the character of Andre, as he is seen as a young boy, sitting next to his mother, listening to the eulogy at his father’s funeral. Within that speech, the priest describes Andre’s character. He is compared to his father; the priest brings up his “fearlessness.” It provides the audience with an expectation and understanding of Andre’s character, without having to see the grown Andre in action. Soon after, the story truly gets underway, as we get to the present day, and Michael Trujillo (Stephan James) and Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch) attempt to steal some cocaine. However, when they arrive in the building, they realise there is more cocaine than they knew about, and somehow, police officers arrive on the scene. In a desperate attempt to escape with the cocaine, Ray kills the officers, and he and a panicked Michael flee the scene.
One of the strongest parts of 21 Bridges is the pacing. It wastes little time getting into the meat of the story. Andre’s character and his motivations as a policeman are quickly established, and shortly after, the robbery occurs, and the manhunt begins. It keeps the narrative ticking, rarely losing any momentum, particularly in the first hour. Also, director Kirk does a good job incorporating action scenes, and twists, as they come at the right time, ensuring audiences do not lose interest.
Ultimately, what keeps 21 Bridges going, particularly in the latter portion of the film, is Boseman’s fantastic performance. He has that undeniable charisma of a leading man and has a presence that automatically lifts every scene he is in. He also balances the macho, tough-guy persona with a kind heart, which makes it easy for audiences to root for him. It’s a delicate balance, but Boseman effortlessly pulls it off, and his performance also makes up for some of the weaker moments in 21 Bridges.
The action in the film is intense and chaotic, allowing audiences to understand the chaos Boseman’s Andre and the other characters are experiencing. However, the chaos also seems to represent how messy the story can get as the film approaches its conclusion. It is through the action scenes where some of the plot twists become painfully obvious for audiences, and instead of changing course, Kirk and co. stick with the obvious plot twist.
Unfortunately, the lack of twists and our protagonist being unable to notice some of the suspicious activity makes the final half an hour/forty minutes a much slower and less engaging experience. The fact audiences can more or less predict where it’s going will likely lead to many people wondering when the film’s going to end as opposed to wondering what’s going happen next? Even Boseman cannot singlehandedly save the ending from being a disappointment.
The writing of 21 Bridges begins to fall apart as it slowly crawls to the ending. However, there are also insignificant character traits that get a lot of attention throughout, which have little impact on the story. Andre’s M.O. of only shooting in response to people shooting at him felt irrelevant due to it never challenging him or putting him in difficult situations. Had this led to Andre getting stuck in between a rock and a hard place, and having to decide on whether to abide by his rule or potentially save someone’s life, there would have been a justification for focusing on this fact.
Despite the film ending on a much weaker note, the positives in Kirk’s project do make it a fun watch for audiences. There’s enough clever dialogue, strong action, and a whole lot of Chadwick Boseman that it’ll do enough to paper over some of the evident cracks in 21 Bridges armor.
Dir: Brian Kirk
Scr: Adam Mervis, Matthew Michael Carnahan
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, Stephan James, J.K. Simmons, Taylor Kitsch
Prd: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
DoP: Paul Cameron
Runtime: 100 minutes
21 Bridges will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on March 30th.