Film Review: “21 Bridges” Is a Taut, Tense and Timely Thriller

Film poster: “21 Bridges”

21 Bridges (Brian Kirk, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.

There’s nothing like a good crime thriller. In today’s world it seems we can’t get enough of them, with the hundreds of different “cop shows,” as my family would call them, on all different networks, some classic and memorable, others dull and forgettable. However, even in today’s craze with TV crime dramas, a good crime film bundled up into a 1-hour-40-minute package filled with mystery and thrills can still deliver the goods. Thus is the case with 21 Bridges.

Director Brian Kirk’s taut crime thriller stars Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) as Andre Davis, a conflicted New York city detective with a tragic past who has become known by the public and police alike as “the cop who kills cop killers.” The supporting cast includes Sienna Miller (American Sniper) as fellow NYC cop Frankie Burns, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) as Captain McKenna and Keith David (Armageddon) as Deputy Chief Spencer. The plot is set in motion when two thieves break into a liquor store after midnight to steal a hidden stash of cocaine. When the police arrive at the scene, the men shoot and kill more than a half-dozen cops and escape with the drugs. Detective Davis arrives on the scene and insists that Manhattan be shut down for the night with all tunnels and bridges closed until the two cop-killers are found. Davis elects to lead the pursuit, and a night-long chase ensues. However, Davis soon begins to realize that there is more to this robbery than meets the eye.

J.K. Simmons, Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller in 21 BRIDGES ©STX Entertainment

The cinematography, editing, and sound in this film all work together wonderfully to help emphasize New York City’s size and danger. There are some stunning overhead shots of the city at night that give the viewer a great sense of its atmosphere. The camerawork, in general, is great and works perfectly for the style of the film. The same can be said for the editing, which varies by scenes. There are some long takes and some quick, back-and-forth cuts between characters’ faces, both of which work. Overall, I really enjoyed the filmmaking and felt it fit the genre perfectly.

The story is also very intriguing and gripping. The writing is clever and makes viewers feel a certain way by highlighting details. For example, when we see the cops murdered by the thieves at the beginning of the film, a lot of time is spent with Detective Davis looking at specific parts of their dead bodies, subsequently with the audience also looking at them, while at the same time a captain is giving a description of who they were and what family they left behind. This is likely to get many viewers emotional, as I was, and sets the tone well for the rest of the film. However, the story also follows the cop-killers quite often and their journey that night, giving us a chance to see the “villains,” who are now desperate and regretful. There are also a great many twists and turns to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch in 21 BRIDGES ©STX Entertainment

The performances are all great, with one slight exception. Since the film takes place in New York, a choice was made to have almost every character speak in a New York accent. Some pulled it off well, others … not as much. It was a bit distracting to hear some of the lesser New York accent impersonations when they happened but didn’t detract too much from the film. The only other issues I have with 21 Bridges were small. There are a few coincidences that occur, and there is one large information-dump scene in the middle of the movie. These are common to the crime-drama genre; however it still doesn’t change that they just didn’t work for me. Overall, 21 Bridges was an intense, relentless, fast-paced, but focused thrill ride with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing but not too many to not make sense. It isn’t anything revolutionary in the genre, but it is one of its best entries, with a modern, updated feel.

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