With multimillion dollar exploding CGI fests scorched earth-ing cinemas virtually every month, it’s always nice every now and then to view something a little smaller in scale that’s hand wringing exciting that doesn’t feature giant lizards, Infinity Gauntlets or ice creating Disney princesses. Enter 21 Bridges, a small but perfectly formed slab of thriller flavoured action that, while hardly as intricately plotted as the filmmakers think it is (you’ll most likely guess a large proportion of the twists and turns about 20 minutes in), is still a gun blazing, jump-and-slide-over-a-car-bonnet, kick-in-a-door-and-scream-FREEZE example of cop movie we don’t actually seem to get anymore.
After a drug theft goes wrong and leaves a staggering 8 police officers riddled with bullets, small time career criminals Michael Trujillo and Ray Jackson find themselves on a mad race to sell the vast amounts of heroin they are lugging around (the film is a GREAT ad for bags for life). On their tail is the entirety of a supremely pissed of police force who are all looking for payback for their fallen brothers and sisters and are in a shoot first, ask questions never kind of mood. Heading the case is Andre Davis, the straightest of straight arrows who reluctantly has a reputation of fatally bringing down cop killers, who realises that he has limited time to bring down the gun toting duo before they manage to vanish into the ether and so puts in effect a most unusual curfew. To shut down the 4 tunnels, 3 rivers and – yes – the 21 Bridges that link Manhattan to it’s surrounding land masses. Given 5 hours by his bosses to bring the criminals to heel, Andre and his temporary partner narcotics detective Frankie Burns, begin their hunt but their prey are beginning to think they’ve walked into the middle of something far larger than a simple drug heist and that maybe a bigger conspiracy is tightening around them. Can Andre possibly hope to untangle the truth or will a city full of revenge obsessed, trigger happy cops even let him?
21 Bridges is a movie that behaves very much like it’s super-determined lead: it’s lithe, muscular and absolutely dedicated to forward propulsion but at the same time is far too busy for any kind of personal stuff to get in the way of the chase. This has two simultaneous effects on the movie which both benefit and harm the movie in general; the first being that the pace of the movie is pedal to the metal for pretty much the second the first bullet thuds into a body clad in a police uniform and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. However, the lack of time devoted to any character work beyond how dedicated to the law they are (or aren’t) makes the movie purely all about the hunt. Now, while this does mean the film moves at an impressive clip and is unrelenting in how tense it frequently gets it also means that the characters are fairly slight and one dimensional. Chadwick Boseman’s lead, for example, has not much else to work with except his character being supernaturally dedicated and honest and it’s pretty the same for the other members of the stunningly talented members of the cast but each one knows how to give a lot with a little (especially an impressively rumpled Sienna Miller) but you can’t help feel the film is a little too basic.
However, the over whelming feel to 21 Bridges is that of a throwback to those simplistic but hard hitting thrillers Jerry Bruckheimer used to produce in the 90’s and 00’s (usually directed by Tony Scott and featuring Denzel Washington) and that’s most definitely a good thing but some will want a more fleshed out film.
However, what we’re left with is a basic thriller with exceptional drive and there’s not a whole lot of time to contemplate the one dimentional characterization when your butt cheeks are clinging tenaciously to the edge of your seat. The frequent exchanges of gunfire and frenzied shot foot chases are legitimately teeth grinding and very well staged, especially in the dying moments of the lock down as Michael flees through the open streets as police pop up from every street corner firing wildly like he’s on a four-star cop rating on GTA.
For a film heavily advertised of the back of “visionary directors of Avengers: Endgame”, (the Russo Brothers are involved in producer roles only despite recruiting the Black Panther himself), 21 Bridges isn’t particularly visionary in the least but it IS well made and a tremendously exciting slice of cops and robbers.
Less interested in reinventing the wheel and more focused on more old school thrills and spills, 21 Bridges is well worth crossing for an above average night out.