‘21 Bridges’ starts with Andre Davis as a 13-year old boy in the funeral of his dad, a New York cop who died in the line of duty. This sequence ends with a breathtaking drone shot that shows hundreds of uniformed cops lined up outside the church who all then give a final salute to their fallen colleague. We’ve seen numerous drone shots that have no purpose at all, but this one is fully justified as it stresses the importance of this vital event in the life of the young Andre.
He’ll also grow up to be a cop, played by Chadwick Boseman of “The Black Panther”. “21 Bridges” is not really a groundbreaking film as we’ve already seen a lot of police-crime dramas, but it works and manages to be quite exciting and entertaining because of the very smart direction and the fine acting that go into it.
Andre is called in to investigate the cold-blooded killing of some cops in a botched robbery job. The criminals are a white guy, Taylor Kitsch (a Canadian actor who used to plays lead roles in movies that flopped like “Battle Ship” and “John Carter”, so he’s now relegated to character roles) and a black guy, Stephan James (another Canadian actor who starred in the highly acclaimed “If Beale Street Could Talk”), both M.E. war veterans. They are small time thugs who get into a restaurant to steal 30 kilos of cocaine but they find out there’s actually about 100 kilos in it. Soon, so many cops appear to hound them and it’s Taylor who’s trigger happy and kills them all. They manage to get away and Andre is the one assigned to hunt them down. The leader of the ill-fated cops is J.K. Simmons as Capt. McKenna and he expects Andre to put the killers down once he locates them as he has a history of summarily killing criminals.
The killers are in the island of Manhattan so Andre asks that all the 21 bridges going to and from Manhattan be locked down to make sure they cannot escape, hence, the movie’s title. Andre has a deadline of only four hours to apprehend them and he has to finish the operation before 5 a.m. when Manhattan starts to wake up. He is given a partner, a single mom, narcotics detective Frankie (Sienna Miller.) He’s reluctant to accept her but she tells him: “You can use me or fight me.”
You can sense that something is wrong with the way the movie treats the thugs with more sympathy. And Andre also feels this and later correctly deduces that some corrupt cops are involved in the drug heist that went bad. He sees the need to keep the suspects alive so they can spit out the secrets that they know, but the other cops are just too eager to quickly liquidate and silence them.
It’s easy to infer that there’s going to be a big twist, but what really gets your full attention is that Director Brian Kirk manages to get us totally invested in Andre and the discoveries he makes about his own colleagues. Andre knows there’s a conspiracy and he is no longer sure who to trust.
As may be expected, the movie is full of action scenes involving face offs, gunfights, car and foot chases and there’s a thrilling sequence inside a subway train, all executed well in this pretty intelligent, no frills action thriller. It’s also fast paced and clocks in at only an hour and a half but riveting all throughout.
Boseman’s performance as the main protagonist is commanding and quite intense, showing he has wider range and can be credible not only in superhero-fantasy flicks. He’s now one of the more successful African-American actors working in Hollywood. He’s adequately supported by everyone, from the cop killers to the double-dealing cops who turn against him and try to bring him down.