REVIEW: 21 BRIDGES is a fairly standard cop thriller, one that’s occasionally inspired, but just as often run of the mill. It’s anchored by a commanding lead performance by Chadwick Boseman, although he’s less in action hero mode than the posters and trailers suggest, with this having more in common with something like SERPICO or PRINCE OF THE CITY than a more action-driven film.
This aspect both works to the film’s advantage and against it. On the plus side, you get more fully rounded characters than normal for a film of this ilk, specifically the two “baddies” played by Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch. However, the film suffers from a lack of thrills, which is a problem here as the story isn’t compelling enough to work as a straight drama. The big twist, while telegraphed early on, is dealt with in too convenient a fashion, leaving the film feeling neither satisfying as an actioner or a drama.
Boseman tries hard to elevate the material, although his constant speeches strain credibility. The film opens with him being investigated by Internal Affairs for too many fatal shootings, and he justifies his actions with a speech about his righteousness that is probably a nice piece of writing for the screenwriters but feels pretty phony baloney. His constant speechifying makes him a little awkward as an action hero, and despite being sold as a Chadwick Boseman film, he only feels like part of an ensemble here.
In fact, the strongest roles by far go to James and Kitsch as the bad guys. They play triggermen meant sent to steal thirty keys of cocaine, only to come face-to-face with over 300 keys and an army of cops waiting for them. Of the two, James is meant to be the sympathetic one, with him not shown killing cops, while the trained Kitsch lays waste to eight of them. Yet, in a smart departure, Kitsch is not portrayed as a psycho. Rather, he simply killed them so he could get away, and he’s shown to be protective of his younger partner, with a heroic soldier backstory. Kitsch benefits from the material, and once again proves why he’s such an underrated actor. James also shows a lot of charisma as the younger partner, with this a good follow-up to his breakout roles in IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK and Amazon’s “Homecoming.” The problem is, you’re thoroughly on their side throughout, especially after a late in the game plot twist that, perversely, really makes them no worse than the hero – played by Boseman, who comes off as annoying self-righteous throughout.
Sienna Miller also has a solid part, cast against type as a Narc trailing Boseman, while J.K. Simmons is cast exactly to type as the police captain wanting revenge. His casting is so assembly line that it’s painfully easy to predict where this is going about ten minutes in. The action, while limited, is fine but director Brian Kirk seems more interested in making a serious cop flick than an action-driven one. Too bad the material isn’t quite up to the task.
21 BRIDGES isn’t a terrible cop film I’d wager it’s a perfectly passable one. However, it can’t be denied that there’s little here you haven’t seen before, with only Kitsch and James distinguishing things. It’s a passable time-filler but not much more.