‘The Fugitive’, ‘Serpico’ and ‘The French Connection’ are some of the films cited as influences by Chadwick Bosman, star of thriller ’21 Bridges’. These are lofty ambitions that this Russo Brothers produced film does not quite hit. To be honest, on final product, it doesn’t really look like it had any intention of committing the necessary investments in character. What it does commit to are effective surface level jolts of adrenaline that do not disappoint.
Directed by Brian Kirk, cliché’s seem to define the structure of the New York-set ‘21 bridges’. Army vets, Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and his partner Michael (Stephan James) look to execute small heist with the reward of 30 kilos of cocaine. Things take a turn when they realise there was an ominous mix-up. They discover 300 kilos of cocaine instead. A few scenes and a blitz of action later, eight cops are dead duo are on the run.
Detective Andre Davis (Boseman) smells something fishy. The rest of the police officers are just out for blood after the death of one of their own. As it turns out, Davis’ dad was killed on the job and this has shaped his no-nonsense reputation towards cop killers. He teams up with Sienna Miller’s narcotics detective Frankie Burns to catch the killers within an about-five hour window during which the island of Manhattan is completely locked down.
It’s actually quite the efficient setup. Ray and Michael, with their military training and heightened angst, are no ordinary fugitives but Davis has the smarts and the killer instinct too. Plus there’s the added mystery of a possible set up which both sides are wary of. It’s a clever beat that blurs the line between cop and robber as we become more invested in who’s behind the curtain pulling strings.
‘21 Bridges’ does not get more textured than this as it places most of its chips on its brisk pacing, fine shootouts, and gripping chase sequences. The highlight is a particular set piece primarily involving Boseman and James which showcases our director’s excellent fundamentals and razor-sharp editing that birth spurts of action on par with the best the Bourne films have to offer. It’s really to do with the way Kirk seems to launch his set pieces from a sound sense of time and space.
We also low-key has a great cast, with J.K Simmons also pitching into the ensemble which generally drips with charisma. There are moments where you wish there would have been more layers to the characters that moved the story forward as opposed to the tedious plot-driven film lumbering towards the reveal we see coming from a mile away (save for one which caught me off guard).
Davis is broadly defined by an incident in his childhood, where his police father was killed on the job. This trauma evolved into his affinity for pulling the trigger when cop killers are involved as noted by his current troubles with internal affairs. But we never doubt Davis’ moral standing. He is as true blue as they come.
Ray and especially Michael are drawn with greyer strokes and if you squint really really hard, you get why Boseman would link ’21 Bridges’ to ‘The Fugitive’. But there is a lack of storytelling texture that lowers the ceiling of this film. Lack of depth notwithstanding, the gloss is enough to make this thriller a worthwhile hang.