Film Review – 21 Bridges (2019)

The last couple of months in filmland have been flooded with debates, arguments, and discussions about just what the future of cinema has in store for us. Martin Scorsese’s comments about the “theme park” nature of Marvel and comic-book franchises as a whole have taken up many spaces and think pieces; the recent flops of Terminator: Dark Fate, Doctor Sleep and Charlie’s Angels – plus many through the year – have raised questions about franchise fatigue and studio’s picking the wrong “IP’s”; and, outside of big-budget fare, what hopes do the mid-level films have in a marketplace that seems to be now full of problems.

The release of 21 Bridges, the latest film starring and produced by Black Panther himself Chadwick Boseman, has something of a serendipitous feel to it in that it has, somewhat bafflingly, become a bit of a risk as films of this ilk just don’t succeed the way they used to 10 or 15 years ago. Already moved around the schedule a few times this year, many have already written the film off before it was even screened for critics, let alone its public release, that once upon a time was bread and butter for Hollywood. Thankfully, the “risk” seems to have paid off.

Boseman is Andre Davis, a smart, forceful NYPD detective whose pursuit of justice above all has rubbed many – including internal affairs – the wrong way. As an investigation into his methods is continuing, a shoot-out involving two local hustlers (Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James) and a group of local NYPD cops ends in bloodshed and a manhunt begins, with the dead cops’ captain (J.K. Simmons) and narcotics detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) in tow. However, not all is what it seems and to stem the flow of growing public interest and further casualties, Davis has an idea: to shut down all 21 bridges in the city to trap the assailants.

So far, so very 90’s thriller but when such luxuries aren’t afforded us very often, its something of a surprise that 21 Bridges actually works better than it had originally seemed. Dark and thrilling if dry predictable, it does exactly what it says on the tin, chugging along at a decent enough pace that is never boring. Bryan Kirk, primarily a television director thus far, seems to have used his work on Luther and Game of Thrones to good effect here, keeping New York looking vast and ominous with some glorious aerial shots whilst keeping the action at ground level suitably shaky and gritty.

It’s the script, which seems to have been through a few changes over the years since its inception, that lets the film down ultimately as it hurtles towards its overly obvious ending whilst also under-serving its supporting players, despite solid work from Miller and Simmons. Boseman, meanwhile, keeps everything ticking over nicely and even though this one won’t have the staying power of T’Challa (what would?), he is always supremely watchable and raises 21 Bridges (see what we did there?) above all of its genre trappings.

Crime, Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | 22nd November 2019 (UK) | STX Films | Dir.Brian Kirk | Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons , Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch

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