Dir: Brian Kirk. Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Stephan James, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch, J.K. Simmons, Keith David, Alexander Siddig. 15 cert, 99 mins
The cop thriller 21 Bridges, so named for the number of entry points to Manhattan, puts the city on overnight lockdown so the NYPD can clinch two arrests. But no one is much interested in arresting anybody. They’re out for blood. Cranking up the bombast while credibility goes south, this pushy effort trades – too crudely – off the idea that modern policing means shooting first and asking questions later. When it asks why, it has only jerry-rigged, generic answers.
The hero is one Andre Davis, played by Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman in righteous avenger mode. Despite his trigger-happy record, which Internal Affairs grill him about at the start, he’s the only one we can trust, picking up where his slain father left off on the job. When he kills, he kills for good reason – not to wrap up loose ends or merely save the city some legal expense.
He’s sent to the scene of slaughter at a Brooklyn wine bar – a front for coke dealers, raided by rival ones, who have tricked freelance criminals Mike (Stephan James) and the more cold-blooded Ray (Taylor Kitsch) into doing their dirty work. These two war veterans broke in to find a coke stash 10 times bigger than they’d been expecting, and instant heat from the 85th precinct. Suspiciously instant. In desperation, they’ve shot seven cops dead to get out, and have fled by car with hopeless forethought across the East River.
Trapped there until dawn by city-wide dragnet, this pair are sitting ducks. But the screenplay, co-written by Adam Mervis and World War Z’s Matthew Michael Carnahan, won’t commit to the real-time possibilities of its premise, because it keeps cutting back to righteous old Andre – several steps behind his colleagues either in figuring out the criminals’ whereabouts or getting them in the crosshairs.
Why? We smell a rat much more quickly than the corruption-wary Andre does, which makes him a frustrating lead to spend so much time with. Sienna Miller, as a squirming narc, and JK Simmons, as the precinct's territorial chief, put on a show of having his back.
The film lifts several motifs from L.A. Confidential, including a rotten-apple confrontation in one cop’s kitchen, but it boasts nothing like that film’s skill with a layered or surprising plot, and seems to lack faith in the audience’s intelligence to suss out its intrigue – or not without thoroughly clunky pointers. (There’s one involving Miller’s phone history that’s pure amateur hour.)
It’s also a bust aesthetically. A major wodge of Brian Kirk’s film is badly-shot B-roll of Manhattan’s nocturnal skyline, with barely distinct contours. The music isn’t fresh, either – stern strings overdetermine this as solemn stuff, even though nowhere near enough work has gone in to making us take the characters seriously.
Alexander Siddig, as a Sudanese “cleaner” for illicit cash, is a cipher in a silk dressing gown, given about two close-ups in his 10-minute scene. Simmons, who looks the part, vanishes for an hour before coming back with a big, obvious payday monologue. And not even the gifted James (If Beale Street Could Talk, Homecoming) can bring off what Mike is meant to stand for, in a subway confrontation with Andre that strains for shedloads of phony resonance.
Maybe he and Boseman should have swapped roles. At least it would have shaken up the latter’s challenge, rather than relying on his default skills as our crusading hero – tough, dangerous, but on the right side, as he inevitably must be. Watchable though the One Good Cop formula has oft proven, it’s shot through here with unearned self-regard – and turns acrid fast.