"I take orders from the Octoboss."

21 Bridges

21 BRIDGES is a police thriller with some action. It reminds me of the kind of stuff studios made in the ‘90s, when maybe it would’ve starred Denzel or Wesley Snipes or maybe Samuel L. Jackson if he’d been offered it during that window when he could be the main character and starred in THE NEGOTIATOR. But it was made in 2019, so it stars Chadwick Boseman and is produced by his CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, AVENGERS INFINITY WAR/ENDGAME directors Joe and Anthony Russo (as well as Boseman himself).

Boseman plays Andre Davis, NYPD detective, son of a murdered cop, infamous for shooting and killing 8 perps in 9 years, but he insists they were all justified, and it’s obvious he’s the type of good guy we can trust on that. The types we can’t trust are all over the movie, and they’re obvious too.

Tonight’s Andre Davis Mystery involves two criminals, one more reasonable and moral than the other, busting into a restaurant to steal a stash of cocaine. The one guy there basically tells them they’re making a mistake, that they will die, and then willingly gives them the keys and the location of the vault. Not like he’s scared of them, more like there’s no reason to interfere, they’re not going to get away with it.

Turns out there’s ten times more coke here than they expected, and cops show up before they even start loading any of it. The white guy starts shooting and is good with his machine gun, so very quickly there are dead cops in and around the building and they’re running red lights in their getaway car, covering their faces for the cameras and contemplating their not-great prospects for the future.

Somehow I recognized the eyes of Detective John Battleship himself, Taylor Kitsch, behind one of their skull masks. Maybe it subconsciously reminded me of the masks in SAVAGES. Kitsch is quite good as Ray Jackson, who at first seems like the Mr. Blonde type psycho who Michael Trujillo (Stephan James, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK) got stuck working with, until you learn that they’re actually very close, with a military connection. We learn about that on a big screen at police headquarters, which looks like NASA mission control.

When Andre arrives at the scene he gets alot of pressure from various friends of the victims, including Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons, EXTRACT, slightly subdued by his standards, but doing an accent), who heavily imply that it’s his job to straight up execute the shooters. And they stick him with a partner from narcotics, Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller, FOXCATCHER, G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, having fun doing an accent, wearing a baggy jacket and having blemishes).

The script is credited to Adam Mervis (THE PHILLY KID) and Matthew Michael Carnahan (THE KINGDOM, WORLD WAR Z, DARK WATERS). There’s some of those Law & Order type scenes where he’s interviewing suspects who give him the exact information he needs in a dramatic, scripted way instead of, like, a how humans actually talk way. And there’s some show-offy snappy cop banter, but I mostly enjoyed it. I like when they figure out which vehicle they’re looking for and Frankie asks how much he wants to bet they find it torched. “A nickel,” Andre says, and when they later hear that she’s correct he immediately flips her a nickel. He already had it in his hand!

Andre gets to Sherlock it up with a very proud-of-itself monologue explaining how he has deduced that the shooters must be in Manhattan, with a side order of “New York just isn’t the same anymore” commentary. He convinces the boss to shut down the island for a few hours to catch these guys, so we know it’s one of these taking-place-overnight movies that can be enjoyable. The title refers to the number of bridges that had to be closed. If you’re mainly watching it as a bridge fan, I’m afraid they never list off what the 21 bridges are. They occasionally have footage of one or two of them, but that’s it.

Ray and Michael don’t qualify as good people, but I became invested in their attempts to get away alive and find out what the hell went wrong. This includes some running, some shooting, bringing the drugs to the asshole who hired them (Gary Carr, Downton Abbey), and stashing the cash with a big time cleaner (Alexander Siddig, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, THE NATIVITY STORY, CLASH OF THE TITANS), at which points Michael is put in the uncomfortable position of his buddy pulling a gun while the safe is open (in my opinion a faux pas).

When Ray puts his sobriety token on the table and asks for a glass of Scotch, it feels like they’re holding up a big sign that says “YOU SEE? THERE ARE SOME LAYERS TO THIS CHARACTER!” Despite that corniness, I do like that beneath the O-Dog or Bishop type psychotic-friend-who-takes-it-too-far veneer is a guy whose hands shake uncontrollably. Ray is a crazy asshole with a pretty good loud shirt, and I appreciated his presence in the movie.

Two random notes. One, the drug dealer who hired them is named Hawk Tyler, and when they said his name I pictured him as a muscleman with a mohawk and Boz sunglasses, which was hoping for too much. Two, the great Keith David has a small part as a Deputy Chief, and spends most of his two big scenes standing behind Andre out of focus. It’s kind of cool, though, because the first one is supporting him at his dad’s funeral and the second is standing back and admiring how he examines the crime scene.

Boseman is solid in the role, and I’m glad he has this chance to do a normal tough guy character instead of just historical biopics and Black Panther. At the same time, it seems a little too normal for him after we’ve seen him transform into James Brown and invent the Wakandan accent. And I think it’s probly not his fault, but there was no point where I thought he might actually be an anti-hero who was gonna do the wrong thing. I think he’s supposed to go through a transformation when he finds out what’s going on here, but it doesn’t quite come across like that.

I’d categorize this more as a “thriller” than an action movie, but there are some very tense shootout scenes, following the HEAT school of realistic-seeming mayhem with a ludicrous number of bullets fired, as well as some very tense creeping through buildings and subway cars with guns, flashing badges, gesturing at hiding civilians. There are lots of splintery holes punched in walls and doors in this thing. I wasn’t entirely shocked to see that the second unit director and stunt coordinator is the great Spiro Razatos (MANIAC COP 1, 2 and 3, BAD BOYS II and FOR LIFE, FAST FIVE, 6, SEVEN, FATE and 9), even though the car stuff in it is very grounded, not crazy.

It’s a pretty good looking movie, with nice urban night cinematography by Paul Cameron (COLLATERAL, DEAD MAN DOWN, THE COMMUTER). My only complaint on a production level is the CG search helicopters. If they just framed them like normal helicopter footage I wouldn’t even notice, but they treat them like they’re space ships and have to swoop in at a cool angle every time.

The director, Brian Kirk, is a TV guy. Since the early 2000s he’s directed episodes of shows including The Tudors, Luther, Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful, his one theatrical feature being the 2006 Irish drama MIDDLETOWN starring Matthew Macfadyen. So the advertising puts the emphasis on the Russos. Of course, “the visionary directors of AVENGERS: ENDGAME” themselves were only known for WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD (2002), motherfuckin YOU, ME AND DUPREE (2006), and episodes of Arrested Development and Community before they got to do CAPTAIN AMERICA and, through circumstance and solid franchise filmmaking, found themselves directors of the current highest grossing movie in history. So it make sense that when they used their new clout to start a studio called AGBO they would recruit some TV directors (along with the great stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, whose directorial debut EXTRACTION I’m looking forward to).

Last April, Joe told Esquire the mission of AGBO was “to try to pay back our karma of debt to the universe that we owed Soderbergh for what he did for us and, at the same time, create a space where Anth and I can focus on artist ownership, focus on full creative control over our projects…We’re taking everything that we’ve learned from all our time in the business—as independent filmmakers and television directors, as big commercial filmmakers, doing drama, doing comedy, shooting on shoestring budgets, shooting on the biggest budgets of all time—and trying to apply that to the business so we can curate really thoughtful stories.”

That sounds a hell of alot more highfalutin’ than what they’ve done here with 21 BRIDGES. But if all they’re doing is bringing back the mid-budget R-rated programmers that studios used to make, that’s pretty cool too.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 20th, 2020 at 7:28 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “21 Bridges”

  1. Maybe I’m not getting the gist here because of SPOILER wariness, but this premise just seems outrageously tone deaf to me in this day and age. Are we really expected to see this police executioner as a hero? I’m gonna go ahead and say there’s no world where a cop—an NYPD cop, no less—kills a person a year for nearly a decade straight and every one of them is justified and not yet another example of authority run amok with no repercussions. Just putting that in a screenplay is some right wing bullshit right there. Because it’s saying But hey, we cast Black Panther himself as the police executioner, so isn’t state-sanctioned murder actually pretty noble and awesome and DEFINITELY not racist at all? I mean, look at how white the bad guy is. Like, literally the whitest guy in movies. His name’s Taylor but you knew that just by looking at him. See? No racism. Most cops are rad. Let them shoot you or you’re a bad American.

    Vern wasn’t repulsed by the film so there must be something I’m missing. Does Det. Jack “21” Bridges learn that at the end that he has merely been a blunt instrument protecting state power and it leaves him a broken shell of a man or does he just happily go back to his life knowing that this one (1) incident of police overreach has been properly and compassionately dealt with?


    No, the main character doesn’t have to reckon with his history of shootings, that’s not really part of the plot. He’s a straight up unimpeachable good guy. In this case he’s the one cop that *doesn’t* shoot first and is angry at the cops that do, he only kills in self defense and after giving many warnings. There are a lot of bad cops in the movie, but they’re all part of the same corrupt drug-running unit and the main character kills or arrests them all in the end.

  3. I liked this one for that 90’s vibe to it, plus the “one long night” aspect. All the actor’s were good, I just felt like I knew everything that would happen by the end. (I went to the bathroom at one point and thought I could leave now and still know how it ends, but I stuck with it because I liked everyone in it.)

    I was also disappointed that Chow Yun Fat didn’t show up because this felt exactly like The Corruptor.

  4. JTS: Yeah, I figured that’s how it would be. By making the main character an idealized exemplar of moral rectitude and flawless judgment, the movie can pin the blame for police violence on individual bad actors within the system and not the system itself. After all, how bad could it could be if Black Panther himself can navigate it without setting a single foot wrong or compromising himself in any way? The barrel is totally fine, it’s just these few bad apples we gotta deal with.

  5. I’m not saying I won’t be able to enjoy this movie on its own terms as a thriller, but this premise does make me think about how we treat cops on film and how that changes (or doesn’t) over time. I’m not sure I’m really in the mood for any serious-minded hero cop movies at this point in time when we’re all aware of the corruption and rot at the heart of policing in this country. Cartoonish action heroes who just happen to carry badges and fight equally cartoonish threats (like BAD BOYS 3 LIFE) are another thing entirely, since the tone doesn’t require me to take their acts of fascist violence seriously (although even BB3L is oddly ambivalent about the trail of bodies our heroes have left in their wake while defending the world from, um, ecstasy dealers) but when it gets a little too close to reality without actually dealing with that reality (or even actively excusing or whitewashing it), then it gets a little harder to accept it all as good, clean fun.

  6. I will watch it for realistic Heat-themed shootouts. I wish it were more of an action movie.

    I have to say I feel sorry for Taylor Kitsch. He just got too much too fast. John Carter and Battleship in a row, two mega-budgeted movies that flopped severely (And I actually kind of liked them both). No wonder Hollywood hated him after that. But I think the guy is a genuinely good actor with charisma to spare. He was the best thing about Savages. Taylor should take some lessons from Robert Pattinson on how to turn from a despised teen idol into a character actor everyone is excited about.

  7. Mr. M- I actually had this same realization myself while watching Law & Order: SVU of all things. If every fictional cop we see in popular culture is always totally justified in whatever heinous rights violation they engage in (questionable shootings, assault, torture), what is that saying about us? What does it subconsciously do to people who grow up wanting to become cops? I dunno- I’m a strong believer that artistic depictions of things don’t cause those things, but at the same time, doesn’t a culture’s art reflect certain things it believes about itself?

  8. If vigilante/superhero movies are fascist because the heroes aren’t cops and cop movies are fascist because the heroes ARE cops, I have no idea what action movies are supposed to be about these days. Dinosaurs? Just… running away from dinosaurs?

  9. If by dinosaurs you mean vile patriarchs and their brainwashed henchmen, you are correct sir. Of course, at some point you have to turn around and face the patriarchs down. Just ask George Miller.

    I am guessing most people here think action movies can tell all kinds of stories.

  10. Majestyk, I actually deleted a paragraph addressing that because I thought it was too much of a spoiler. SPOILER. I don’t think it’s a very thoughtful treatment of the subject, but just about all of the cops besides him are corrupt, which I think is supposed to be an awakening for him, as someone who grew up worshiping his cop dad and dreaming of avenging cop killers. They give all the excuses about how cops aren’t treated well and deserve something on the side, but he’s not buying it.

  11. “Anth”?

  12. He’s referring to his brother/co-director, Anthony Russo.

  13. I just never heard that as a nickname for Anthony. Do other Anthony’s go by Anth?

  14. Thony would be good too.

  15. That Det. John Battleship reference makes me so happy.

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