Monday 4 July 2022

Movie Review: 21 Bridges (2019)

A crime thriller, 21 Bridges is a relatively routine action flick enhanced by a good cast and slick production values.

In Brooklyn, hardened criminal Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch) and his more circumspect accomplice Michael Trujillo (Stephan James) stumble into a large haul of pure cocaine stashed in the basement of a bar. Police officers unexpectedly interrupt the robbery, and in the ensuing shootout Ray kills seven officers. Police Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) is furious at the loss of life in his precinct, while Ray and Michael flee with the drugs into Manhattan. 

Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) and narcotics agent Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) are assigned to the case. Andre is the son of a slain police officer and has a trigger-happy reputation. He now orders all the bridges connecting Manhattan to the outside world closed and floods the borough with police officers. Meanwhile Ray and Michael are desperate to convert their cocaine haul into cash, and connect with money launderer Adi (Alexander Siddig). As Andre closes in on the fugitives, he starts to sense a large-scale corruption conspiracy.

The 21 bridges of the title are little more than an extraneous headline. This is a standard hunt-the-dangerous-bandits plot featuring good guys and bad guys, with a few shades of grey and hidden agendas thrown in to spice up motivations. The action takes place over one long night, the imperative of reopening the bridges by dawn for the city to function creating the time-constrained framework.

Director Brian Kirk has a robust cast to animate the running and gunning. Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller and J.K. Simmons never need to move out of their comfortable gears, but add plenty of quality. The criminals are also provided with welcome texture. Taylor Kitsch as the highly strung but still methodical killer is well-matched by Stephan James as his more hesitant accomplice, and their contrasting dynamic opens intriguing avenues for Boseman's detective to exploit.

Cinematographer Paul Cameron makes good use of the nighttime aesthetic, and as one breathless chase follows another, Tim Murrell's editing finds balance between frantic and coherent. The opening shootout is an exhilarating demonstration of advantages afforded by weaponry and military training, while a couple of guns-drawn showdowns between Michael and Andre allow intellect to compete with instinct.

What starts as a robbery-gone-bad morphs into something much more nefarious, and as the night turns to dawn the dead body count rivals the bridge count. If nothing else, 21 Bridges is always happy to run up the score.

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