21 Bridges (2019) Review
SOLID ACTING TALENTS IN AN
OTHERWISE MEDIOCRE CRIME THRILLER
Throughout the many genres of cinematic tales, the subgenre of crime dramas is indeed one that has been done and redone for decades. Naturally, the idea of these crime dramas (sometimes could be refereed to as cop action thrillers), usually tend to rely heavily on the premise of law enforcement officers (sometimes an individual, pair, or an entire squad) on how they conduct the profession in upholding the law or their cover operations in trying to expose illegal / unlawful criminality. The narrative for these movies can range anywhere between something broad to the very distinct and even have a bit of comedy within its context (i.e. the buddy cop comedy angle), but most of them ring true in bring justice to the unlawful and preserving the law. However, some endeavor can also showcase the ruthless criminality of human beings, including underground drug cartels, terrorists, and gangsters; presenting narratives on how “the system” is corrupt and deceitful by blurring the lines of moral ambiguity. Now, STX Films (along with H. Brothers) and director Brian Kirk present the latest Hollywood endeavor of these cop crime dramas with the movie 21 Bridges. Does the film find its grittiness underlining taste within its presentation or is just another “run of the mill” cops and robbers routine?
During a routinely quiet night in Manhattan, Michael Trujillo (Stephan James) and his good buddy Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch) are plotting to steal a few bricks of cocaine from a local crime syndicate, hoping to slip easily “in and out” without making their presence known. However, what they discover is a vault filled with drugs (more than what they were expecting), raising their monetary take, but also inviting trouble from gangsters and cops, forcing the duo to shoot their way out of the crime scene and disappearing into NYC’s late-night ridden streets. With seven police officers murdered in the melee, Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is called into make sense of this situation, joined by Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), who’s also ready to the nail the crooks for the awful crime. Ordering all bridges closed to contain the shooters, Andrew begins to follow the clues and their whereabout, learning more about their motives, while Michael and Ray scramble to find a way out of New York. However, as Andre closes in on the pair, he uncovers more to the crime and begins to question those around him and the ones he pursuing.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Within my many “favorites” of film genres, the subgenre of the cop / crime dramas are a certainly a special breed; providing a different perspective (presumably) into the lives of several individuals in the various heroes and villains that play a part in these narratives. As I said, these movies can also usually be in a wide variety of scenarios; focusing on the justice and sometimes injustice of the world and how law enforcement fends off the criminal underworld and how the divisions between those lines can sometimes blur in ambiguity. There are plenty of feature films that cover various stories of cops and robbers, but some of my personal favorite would be Patriots Day, The Dark Knight (to some degree), The Godfather, The Departed, Point Break, Bad Boys, and many others. Like I said, the idea of cop / crime endeavors can spread into a multitude of genres out there, so isn’t exactly the style that’s presented, but, more or less, on how the commonplace tropes that are utilized and arranged within the context of the cinematic story being told. Kind of a fanciful way to interpret it, but you get the point.
This brings ups the movie 21 Bridges, a 2019 cop crime drama feature. I do have to say that I was quite intrigued to see this movie. I really didn’t hear much “internet buzz” about this movie when it was first announced, but I recall seeing the film’s movie trailers a few times when I went to my local movie theater. Of course, like may who saw the movie trailer, many were a bit excited to see that 21 Bridges was being produced by the Russo Brothers, the main mastermind pair behind some of Marvel’s better superhero features in the MCU (I.e. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame). Along with that notion, the movie trailer also boasted that actor Chadwick Boseman (who played the Marvel character of T’Challa in Black Panther) would be the main lead of the movie as well having several recognizable talents in the feature’s supporting roles. Of course (as mentioned above), the cop /crime drama angle is a bit commonplace, but I was quite taken with the film’s trailer and looked forward to seeing it. Strangely, 21 Bridges was delayed not once, but twice; switching from its original release date of July 12th, 2019, and then to September 27th, 2019, and then again to final release date of November 22nd, 2019. So, I decided to check out this movie and to see if my inherit hype for this film was well-meant with the final product. And was it? Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t. Despite a star-studded cast and interesting premise, 21 Bridges doesn’t really go anywhere beyond the routine cop /crime drama that usually accompanies these types of endeavors. It’s not exactly bad or anything, but neither is it considered relatively great. It’s lies somewhere in-between.
As I said above, while the movie is produced by the Russo Brothers, 21 Bridges isn’t directed by the two. Instead, directorial duties belong to Brian Kirk, whose previous past works includes directing several TV episodes from popular television series such as Game of Thrones, The Tudors, and Penny Dreadful. In truth, with his background mostly in TV series (as well as a few short films during his early career), Kirk makes 21 Bridges his theatrical feature length directorial debut. To his credit, he does decent job in this capacity, especially since its his first time in helming a theatrical motion picture project like this as well as handling some recognizable / seasoned acting talents along the way. In turn, Kirk certainly stages everything correctly in this crime drama; finding the narrative to be intriguing from the get-go and delivers a solid base to build upon of these particular movies. Interestingly, Kirk stages the movie in a sort of way similar to the TV hit show 24; framing the feature of “real time” event as Andre and his team systematically try to find the whereabouts of Michael and Ray within the course of one night. It’s quite an interesting storytelling technique that works in 21 Bridges, making the movie slightly different from some of its predecessors and certainly adds a bit more “tension” as the feature’s story has a deadline time to reach (i.e. the bridges leading in and out of Manhattan need to be open by daybreak). Additionally, there are a few action scenes that stand out with Kirk staging them to be ruthless and violent and definitely adds to 21 Bridges’s narrative. Plus, Kirk also makes the movie feel very “breezy”, with a finished runtime of 99 minutes (one hour and thirty-nine minutes).
As a presentation, 21 Bridges looks and feels exactly what I was expecting from this crime drama feature. The movie’s background aesthetics and setting nuances certainly meets the industry standards; utilizing the urban backdrop of New York City for the primary setting for the film’s story for all the various characters (be good or bad) to running around in. Thus, the various locations that were used in the movie’s principal photography are well-represented in making the film’s background just as important to the movie as is the story and characters are to the feature. All the other areas that I usually cover (i.e. set decorations, costumes, cinematography, etc.) are “on level” with what you would expect from a 2019 crime / cop drama endeavor. Even the film’s score, which was composed by Alex Belcher and Henry Jackman, is okay; hitting all the right dramatic notes along the way, but nothing quite memorable pieces that truly standout.
Sadly, 21 Bridges can’t overcome its own genre and, despite its attempts, fails in being a juicy crime drama feature that it so desperately wants to be. Perhaps the one that makes the prevalent criticism (of which many will have when watching the film) is that the movie is abundantly bland in its storytelling. Of course, Kirk’s framework of the movie in a “real-time” event is definitely interesting and great in the way of lapsing the film’s runtime, but (looking beyond that) there’s not much to the film’s main storyline narrative. That’s not to say that the tension built up is there, but I rather criticize the actually plot, which seems quite recycled from similar endeavors. Of course, this goes back to all the various storylines that the movie throw into the mix as well as the entire overarching plot of the feature, which is credited to Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan. There’s a good dose to mystery to the film’s story, but none of it is actually engrossing as many viewers will probably guess as to what will happen before it does (I certainly did). This means that the overarching plot of 21 Bridges is quite predictable and formulaic to the tropes of the cope / crime genre and any particular “curveball” that the movie’s script by Mervis / Carnahan nor Kirk’s direction is left expected and bland.
Additionally, the film’s script tries to be sly and quick within this super sleuth case of cops and robbers, but it really doesn’t go anywhere and ends up hitting all the humdrum beats. It’s hard to say, especially without spoiling the movie. Thus, it goes without saying, that if you’ve seen a handful of these gritty cop / crime drama that involves a solid (sometimes rough around the edges) cop / detective that tries to uncover the truth behind a crime, you’ll probably guess what’s gonna happen. The story is quite derivate and the script handling of it all is in a mundane way that it doesn’t really “color outside the lines”. There’s even a big “twist” during the film’s third act, which tries to pull the rug underneath its viewers, but again its quite easy to spot a mile before it arrives. So, 21 Bridges, despite having a strong cast, the film never really goes anywhere and just provides a somewhat decent endeavor, but nothing grand nor ingeniously made to similar projects out there. Perhaps Kirk lacks the experience in motion pictures and doesn’t want to shake up the story; deciding to playing it safe. In simpler terms, the movie just coasts by within its story and never deviates in its “paint by numbers” execution.
What certainly helps elevate the film beyond these criticisms is in its cast, with 21 Bridges have a solid cast of recognizable acting talents to populate many of the main players (major or supporting ones) throughout the feature. There are times where I though that the script was a bit sloppy as the certain scenarios and events, the character dialogue wasn’t particular sharp (rather more dull and blunt), which doesn’t feel genuine. However, the movie relies heavily on their acting and screen presences more so than the actual 21 Bridges characters that they themselves are portraying. Meaning that the film’s characters aren’t quite well-rounded (again, more so common tropes of crime dramas) and are formulaic to the touch. As to be expected, actor Chadwick Boseman leads the charge in the movie as 21 Bridges’s main protagonist character of NYPD Detective Andre Davis. Boseman, known for his roles in Black Panther, 42, and Marshall, has certainly proven himself to be a capable emerging acting talent in a lead role (in recent years) and proves that point yet again in this movie. In truth, Boseman really does carry the weight of the film on his shoulders and pulls it off with dramatic grace and dignity throughout the film’s proceedings. Taking cues and adopting a stoic / righteousness bravado that someone like legendary actor Sidney Poitier might have done in his career, the character of Andrew commands respect and is always in control of the room wherever he goes, with Boseman bring the correct balance of talented swagger and steely demeanor to the role, which definitely works. That being said, the character of Andre (as written) seems a bit too much in control and never really feels to be in that much danger of losing control of whatever situation that he comes across. Thus, the tension that builds in some of the more poignant scenes (whom involve Andre) that in the film never really truly feels tension-filled; lacking the dynamics of the character and how he evolves throughout the course of the movie. In truth, Andre is pretty much the same character from start to finish. So, despite Boseman’s strong acting ability and care the movie on his talent, the character of Andre is good, but also feels a starch and too wooden.
The same thing can be said with the supporting players of the movie, especially in the character of Frankie Burns, a Narcotics Detective that joins Andre on trying to track down Michael and Ray. Played by Sienna Miller, known for her roles in American Sniper, Burnt, and Layer Cake, the character is the stereotype that helps solve the case with the main detective, which offers up new perspective / clues along the way. Sure, Miller’s performance is perfectly fine and certainly elevates the character, but there’s not much to Frankie Burns than just being a secondary character to bounce ideas / dialogues off of Boseman’s Andre. Likewise, the characters of Michael Trujillo and Ray Jackson are pretty the basic stock-like robbers one who typically find in these endeavors, with one being the more “devious” one and the other caught up in the greater struggle of the circumstance of events. Of course, actors Stephan James, known for his roles in Race, Selma, and If Beale Street Could Talk, and Taylor Kitsch, known for his roles in Battleship, John Carter, and Only the Brave, are good in their respective roles, but (once again) the movie relies on their screen presence / acting performances rather than creating wholesome characters; rendering Michael and Ray to be quite generic and transparent, despite the film’s script attempting to shed some light on their characters backstories. Even actor J.K Simmons, known for his roles in Whiplash, Patriots Day, and Spider-Man, can’t really do much with his flat character of Captain Matt McKenna, a seasoned cop commander that butts heads with Andre in the investigation. It’s quite clear as to what the movie wants to be McKenna, but it’s quite frustrating to see it become a stock-like one, especially since Simmons is quite a talented actor and seems more restricted in the role.
The rest of the cast, including actor Keith David (Gargoyles and The Princess and the Frog) as Deputy Chief Spencer, actor Alexander Siddig (Kingdom of Heaven and Da Vinci’s Demons) as the “fixer” named Adi, actor Louis Cancelmi (The Looming Tower and Billions) as Bush, actor Obi Abili (Forgotten Man and The Nativity) as Sgt. Butchco, actor Andy Truschinski (Conundrum! and Steven) as Sgt. Dugan, actress Victoria Cartagena (Almost Family and Manifest) as Yolanda, and actor Gary Carr (The Deuce and Downton Abbey) as Hawk, are in minor supporting roles and (like the going trend of this movie) their acting talents are fine, but the character, despite having a handful scenes (some having one or two) feel empty-handed and hollow within the respectively small character builds / personas.
The only way out is through “him” as NYPD Detective Andre Davis hunts down two perpetrators in Manhattan, sectioning off the area and trying to discover hidden secrets along the way in the movie 21 Bridges. Director Brian Kirk’s directorial feature length endeavor takes the classic cop drama narrative and applies it to the capable star power of its cast; creating a “cat and mouse” game with its cops and robbers of evading, pursuing, and revelations along the way. While the movie’s premise is good and definitely has the right amount of gritty action / suspense during its narrative, the rest of the film lacks originality and falls heavily on the commonplace tropes of similar projects as well as underdeveloped its characters (thankfully the cast help elevate them). To me, the movie was okay. It wasn’t exactly terribly bad or anything, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled by it. Thus, my recommendation for the film is both an “iffy choice” and maybe a passable “rent it”; depending on if you like these crime / cop dramas or just simply enticed to see the movie for its cast. In the end, 21 Bridges has all the makings of a solid cop thriller, but ends up somewhere in the middle of the road; neither really coloring outside the lines nor never really differentiate itself from similar endeavors. It’s just an ordinary cop drama thriller.
3.0 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Rent It)
Released On: November 22nd, 2019
Reviewed On: December 14th, 2019
21 Bridges is 99 minutes and is rated R for violence and language throughout