There’s nothing more disappointing than a thriller that misses the mark. 21 Bridges had potential, after all, it was described as the kind of thriller “they don’t make any more”. I took that to mean gritty, realistic, and edge-of-your-seat but unfortunately the film-makers must have meant straight-to-DVD. It’s always a bad sign when a movie trailer promotes the producer’s last directorial feature (in this case the Russo brothers’) rather than the actual director involved. It’s particularly odd when those producers are heralded as “visionaries” despite directing some of the most overrated comic book movies of all time. If the director or writer isn’t worth mentioning when they cut the trailer, you’re basically in for some substandard viewing. The concept of New York being a giant maze or game isn’t as brilliantly conveyed in 21 Bridges as it was in Die Hard: With A Vengeance. In terms of direction and cinematography therefore, most of this film is bland point-and-shoot; there’s no real attempt at creating any atmosphere, tense scenes, or explosive action. Directed by TV director Brian Kirk and written by newcomer Adam Mervis and hit-and-miss writer Matthew Carnahan, now I know why the trailer was so intent on promoting the producers instead.
There’s something very familiar about 21 Bridges; it’s very similar to other (better) movies including Copland, Internal Affairs, and even Usual Suspects. The ending also reminded me of The Negotiator. But have no illusions: 21 Bridges isn’t a well-constructed crime-thriller centred around cops. There’s no real comment on how widespread police corruption is (Copland), there’s no ingenious uncovering of the bad-guy à la The Negotiator, and despite the central premise being almost identical to “New York’s Finest Taxi Service” from The Usual Suspects, almost everything that takes place in this film is predictable… What’s that? Some of the cops are in on it you say? Which ones? Well, it’s the ones who are acting like they’re in on it! Oh how clever!
This movie at one point, has a little dig at The Sopranos but surely a screenplay that does such a thing has to contain the most serious, real-life depiction of crime in order to get away with that kind of comment but no, 21 Bridges is basically something you’d watch on Netflix and not care that you paused it umpteen times to check your phone. There maybe a decent caliber of actors here including Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, and J.K. Simmons, but they’re not given great content to work with. Sienna Miller is no stranger to this kind of film; let’s not forget that she took part in both G.I. Joe and American Sniper and 21 Bridges falls somewhere in the middle of these two Yankee shit-fests.
This film seems to have been created within a climate of Hollywood cowardice (although, when isn’t Hollywood pandering to the mainstream?). Mainstream media and middle America loves to think of its police and military as indisputable heroes these days, so a fake-liberal Hollywood enjoys cowering to them. Let’s take an overview: the plot of 21 Bridges involves a hero cop who’s shot several bad-guys but I.A. are on his ass (can’t an upstanding cop just kill people without Internal Affairs hounding him?). When our central hero figure goes home, among all his awards and certificates, there’s a framed photo of the Twin Towers 🇺🇸😭. The corrupt cops who surround our hero are only doing wrong so they can make a “decent” wage and afford to live in a city they protect (cue the violin music) with their nurse-wives (nurses are angels don’t you know). If they didn’t break the law, they’d end-up divorced or addicted to alcohol (oh woe is me!). The two main antagonists aren’t really bad either, they’re just ex-soldiers suffering from either P.T.S.D. or mourning for a lost brother 🎖️😭. When they take their shirts off, they reveal a dog-tag and a Christian cross. Gosh darn, these two guys have been lead down the wrong path by actual bad people (mainly minority drug dealers) so please don’t hate them, they fought for God and country! This kind of contrived and wussy story-line really makes me puke. God-forbid we say some cops, a couple of war veterans, or a nurse are actually doing “wrong” or “evil”!
Speaking of vomit, there’s a few lines that seem to have been written by some kind of police-force-appreciation society. The line “you wear that badge, I got your back” made me almost hurl my popcorn into my latex pig mask 🤮. There’s also a few slightly-out-of-date references like the cringe-worthy “Becky with the good hair” line (which means either the writers or the New York police department are out of touch with society). There’s a hilariously contemporary plot-device where the double-crossed bad guys (Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James) take “50 keys” of cocaine in some “bags for life”! Committing crime whilst saving the planet – oh how we all love a gentrified New York – get that crack in your tote bag girls!
Evoking war and religion in the opening scenes (in particular the idea that a police officer is “a servant of god” from Romans 13:4) this film, I assume, was trying to make police-work look extremely important but what it does instead is make you retch at the sight of the incessant pro-cop shite on show 🤢. There’s a comment by J.K. Simmons’ character (Captain McKenna) about how the N.Y.P.D. does their job despite their city disliking them… maybe work on the widespread racism before moaning about your citizens hating you? McKenna whines about trials and endless parole hearings for those who kill his fellow cop buddies (the irony of a policeman complaining about due process is ironic but probably unintended) and this to me was in bad taste, especially when in most high-profile cases, killer cops have a tendency to get away scot-free after murdering innocent minorities. And since this film seems to revel in ignoring real world events, remember the Boston Bombing lockdown? Well here there’s a Manhattan lockdown, and yes, once again it’s in the citizen’s best interest that the police keep them trapped within a martial-law-esque, prison-like perimeter as they prat about looking for the bad guys or “flooding the island with blue” as Andre Davis (Boseman’s character) says…. I hope there’s overtime available for all this extra work… or free doughnuts.
Surely the piss-poor script was indication enough that 21 Bridges would end up being a lacklustre thriller? So how and why did it even go into production? Well, I think this is another case of Hollywood propaganda. This film either a. reinforces the idea that killing a cop is worse than killing a civilian b. it’s promoting the idea that among the bad and corrupt, there’s also righteous and moral cops or c. as subtle advertising to recruit more black people into the police (or all of the above). I mean, there has been two “black cop” movies in recent months, which is two too many given all the recent news stories. It’s almost as though Hollywood is trying to get black people to think of the Police as empathetic heroes rather than trigger-happy racists. After the below-average Black And Blue (what a clever title… not) we now have another below average black-hero-cop flick with 21 Bridges. Hey, if the leader of Wakanda speaks highly of the 5-0 or is a jake himself, then maybe perception of the police will change within the black community? I doubt it; if policemen and women keep racially profiling, using racial slurs, and brutalising black people across the United States, what will a couple of trashy cop-thrillers achieve? Black and brown people have to “look the devil in the eye” every single day. Hollywood is not…