ST. LOUIS — NYPD detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) shoots first and worries about rules and regulations later. The son of a decorated NYPD cop spends more time with Internal Affairs than he does with friends and family, but it's the only way he knows how to do the job.
Davis' blunt style of justice is put to the test when eight cops are murdered in cold blood in a drug robbery gone bad. With a pair of high-powered criminals (Taylor Kitsch and Stephen James) loose, it's up to Davis and a narcotics badge (Sienna Miller) to catch the bad guys. They can close Manhattan down, but is there more to the crime than initially appears?
Brian Kirk's "21 Bridges" is a competently made thriller that gets the most important thing right: the action. The stunts here are of the 1980's old school variety, favoring real movement and bodies over CGI and trickery. From the first gun battle and car chase, you can feel the battering ferocity of this movie ride up close to your theater seat-and that's a good thing.
You don't come to this kind of film hoping for a life-changing experience. This is the guilty pleasure experience you watch while hiding from the artsy cinematic crowd. There are no pretentious schemes taking place here. There isn't an out of nowhere plot device triggered to throw an audience off. There's good cops, dirty cops, and bad guys rolled up into a big city rug for 99 minutes with some genuine entertainment boxed in.
You've seen this story before, but a cop thriller with a one-track mind isn't a bad thing. Instead of trying to be something ambitious and faltering to meet those goals (hint: Deon Taylor's "Black and Blue"), "21 Bridges" sticks to the script of beating your senses over the head with a fast-moving story, easy to like characters, and no sleeping at the wheel until the lights are up.
It helps to have such a compelling screen presence like Boseman at the head of the charge. He's more than just a Marvel hero (granted, this film was produced by the Russo Brothers). There isn't a lot of switchblade to Davis' step, but Boseman keeps you invested. He's a righteous lawman with a crackerjack knack for being precise with his words and smart with his action. You won't hesitate for a second in believing his brand of justice plays in Kirk's world.
Miller adds some juice to a role that could have been thankless, and J.K. Simmons is reliable as always as a police captain demanding poetic justice for the killers. Alexander Siddig and Keith David make the most out of small roles, while Kitsch and James bring levity to roles that, once again, could have tread on remote waters. The cast is mostly able-bodied without being exactly memorable, which works just fine in this genre.
The true MVP here is Paul Cameron, whose cinematography heightens some of the action and lends the film a gritty canvas to paint a crime thriller on. There's a few wisely rendered shots here that elevate the scenes and draw in the eyes. He did capable work on "Man on Fire" and "Deja Vu," but his work here reminds me of his broad strokes on Michael Mann's "Collateral." Something about the aerial views and street gunfire.
Adam Mervis put the simplistic story together and carved out a script with the likes of a talented writer in Matthew Michael Carnahan (brother of Joe), who wrote the dynamic "The Kingdom."
All in all, "21 Bridges" was better than I expected, a credit to the stunt team, Boseman, and Cameron. Sometimes, it's okay to take the mind off the world, watch good guys chase bad guys, and leave the theater without being depressed or lifted up high.
"21 Bridges" is good without being great. It won't waste your time.
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