The film has a very simple plot involving a cat and mouse chase through Manhattan. NYPD Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman), the son of a cop murdered in the line of duty, is set to task in finding two ‘cop killers’ which are on the run after a cocaine heist gone wrong, leading to multiple fatalities after a short shootout.
The personal stakes are clear from the outset. However, the lines becoming blurred as we quickly learn Davis is notorious for shooting suspects first and asking questions later. It’s in dealing with such nuance that 21 Bridges falls flat: missing opportunities for meaningful commentary and failing to connect the audience with the action on screen.
‘Flood the city with blue’ says Davis as he orders the closing down of every route in and out of Manhattan — particularly the 21 bridges connecting to New York’s other boroughs. This is where the thrill should come from a thriller such as 21 Bridges.
However, consistently good cinematography from Paul Cameron isn’t able to compensate for paper-thin characters. The action quickly descends into shootouts between a militarised police force and the two suspects on the run. As each bullet flies, the viewer is left uncaring as to where it lands — apart from two noticeable exceptions, the characters blur into an amorphous mass in a sea of blue.
The film is helped by a theoretically strong cast of high-profile actors. Unfortunately, they are often under-utilised. Boseman puts in an admirable performance as the quick-witted Davis but it’s not nearly enough to salvage the film from numbing mediocrity. The best interactions on screen are those between Davis and Michael (Stephan James), one of the suspects, as they grapple with the effects of their actions. It desperately tries to make itself into something more than a generic action film but is left sadly lacking.
In 2020, you would hope that a film with the central theme of police brutality would be at least somewhat self-aware with a clear-cut message.
There is no real message here — the viewer is told that shooting suspects may be bad, but the main protagonist has done that many times and is shown as redeemable.
It’s a wasted opportunity and speaks volumes to the seeming lack of attention put into the screenplay. The film is too bland, too timid to offer any meaningful message surrounding the entire theme of the film.
There’s an astonishing fact behind the film which perfectly captures the lack of thought put into its plot. Its name comes from the 21 bridges between Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. However, the film was initially called 17 Bridges as they miscounted the number of bridges. Truly marvellous.