WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
After a pair of robbers leave six dead policemen in their wake following a botched cocaine robbery, NYPD detective, Andre Davis, is put on the case. Convincing the FBI to close off the twenty-one bridges in and out of Manhattan, Davis and his team have until morning to close in on the criminals and bring them in, dead or alive.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Directed by veteran premium-TV director, Brian Kirk, 21 Bridges is an impressively assured directorial debut, starring a pretty damn impressive line up of a-list actors, led by an on-form Chadwick Boseman. The basic premise is a good one with a taut 90-minute running time promising a lean, mean crime thriller that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s just a pity that the end result really isn’t very good.
It has its strengths, to be sure, and it’s not completely terrible, but at very best it’s a generic, uninspired action-thriller with decent enough action and a storming lead performance; at its worst, it’s a dull, dreary b-movie that both takes itself far too seriously and thinks its much cleverer than it really is. It also absolutely doesn’t have the courage of its convictions as it largely abandons its premise halfway through for an almost unbelievably lame and uninspired conspiracy thriller – every single twist and revelation of which the audience will have already guessed within the first fifteen minutes of the film.
The only funny moment in the film is when JK Simmons’ NYPD Captain McKenna tells our hero something along the lines of, "damn you’re good." Is he, though. Because it took this supposed genius detective hours to figure out what I – a fairly unobservant film viewer, it has to be said – had worked out within the first couple of minutes of the crime being committed. If you’ve never seen a film of this sort before, maybe some of these "revelations" will take you by surprise, but I can all but guarantee that everyone else will just be left wondering what the hell took the film so long to reveal what we already knew, virtually from the outset. It would be insulting if it wasn’t so pitiful.
More’s the pity that the film is such a stupid, uninspired dud because there’s clearly what to enjoy amongst all the nonsense. Sienna Miller gives a surprisingly committed performance considering how bland her character is and even if Simmons is just cashing a cheque with his fairly small appearance here, he’s about as enjoyable to watch as ever. Chadwick Boseman, though, is the real reason to check out the film (for free, of course, when it hits your TV in the presumably not too distant future) and, presumably, why it hasn’t gone straight to video.
His character is barely one dimensional (unless you count "good" and "cop" as two dimensions) but, damn, does the man bring serious conviction, magnetism and searing intensity to the role. He doesn’t just carry the entire film; he constantly reminds us of just how much better he is than anything else going on on-screen. Even listening to him in interviews, he talks about the film with real passion and paints a far more intriguing picture than the one that’s actually playing out in cinemas countrywide.
Beyond the actors, the film is directed with a decent amount of grit, really highlighting the seedier sides of New York, even as the city comes alive long after dark. The action scenes are also really quite impressively handled throughout, being surprisingly violent and impactful when they need to be. It’s basically a perfectly adequate, if rote, piece of filmmaking that is let down by a not very good script by newcomer, Adam Mervis, and Matthew Michael Carnahan, who has made something of a career out of well-intentioned but bland thrillers... and World War Z.
It was a particular stroke of genius to release this film against Rian Johnson’s brilliant Knives Out. Both films are unabashed genre pieces, but while Knives Out is a fresh, funny and smart take on a very old fashioned kind of story, 21 Bridges is, well, not.
Even if you’re a big fan of mediocre crime-thrillers, save your money and watch it at home on a very boring and rainy Sunday afternoon. If you never, ever get round to seeing it, I wouldn’t worry, though. There’s nothing here that you haven’t already seen in the approximately 652,684,232 other identical films that enjoyed their heyday in the ‘70s to the ‘90s.
And if you’re really dying for a bit of ‘90s nostalgia, there’s a new Martin Scorsese gangster film out right now on Netflix. I mean, it has gone straight to streaming, so it’s obviously "not cinema", but I’ve heard good things and, even sight unseen, is guaranteed to be more worth your time than even 21 Bridges.