Producers: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Robert Simonds, Gigi Pritzker, Chadwick Boseman and Logan Coles Director: Brian Kirk Screenplay: Adam Mervis and Mathew Michael Carnahan Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, Stephan James, J.K. Simmons, Keith David, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Siddig, Morocco Omari, Gary Carr and Louis Cancelmi Distributor: STXfilms
Thoroughly implausible but efficiently made, this police procedural transports Chadwick Boseman from Wakanda to New York City, where he plays Andre Davis, who—after suffering as a child the death of his father, a much-respected patrol officer killed in the line of duty–has become a police detective thought by some to be trigger-happy, though he steadfastly denies the charge, His reputation for wrapping up cases quickly—and taking care of perps effectively—leads to his being put in charge of an investigation involving the killing of nearly a dozen cops.
The bloodbath results from the robbery of a liquor store that served as a way station for the transport of drugs. The thieves are Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael Trujillo (Stephan James), ex-military buddies who are doing the job on assignment for Bush (Louis Cancelmi), a conduit to drug lord Hawk (Gary Carr). They find much more cocaine in the place than they’d expected, and decide to take only what they can carry; before they can leave, however, the cops show up, and in a furious gun battle they kill more than half-dozen of them before making their getaway. They dicker with Hawk for enough money to attempt their escape from a city now experiencing a full-scale manhunt; he also arranges for them to buy the forged documents they’ll need from his own fixer, Adi (Alexander Siddig).
In response to the massacre, Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons), head of the precinct from which the officers came, encourages Davis to handle the investigation expeditiously and deal summarily with the criminals when he finds them, to free the dead officers’ families from the kind of pain the detective himself endured when his father’s killer lived to face trial. McKenna does, however, saddle Davis with a partner he trusts—Narcotics Detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller).
Davis’ conduct of the investigation takes an unorthodox turn when he convinces the Deputy Mayor (Morocco Omari)) to literally cordon off Manhattan by closing all twenty-one bridges to and from the island—thus the title. That will trap Jackson and Trujillo and, it’s hoped, lead to their quick capture. He also intends to bring in the perps alive, though the attitude of the cops supposedly under him seems directed to shooting first and asking questions later—what’s rumored to be his modus operandi. That’s frustrating to him, as he suspects the heist was no ordinary robbery and he’s determined to unpack the secrets behind it. What those secrets are won’t be revealed here; suffice it to say they take the story into very dark areas.
Boseman handles his assignment here confidently, and the always reliable Simmons does likewise. As the primary female in a largely male cast, Miller proves she needn’t defer to the boys, though she is saddled with one damsel-in-distress moment. The thieves are given substantial screen time as well: Kitsch continues his turn from leading-man roles to character parts successfully, but it’s blander James, as the less volatile of the two, who drives the narrative forward.
“21 Bridges” also benefits from the direction of Brian Kirk, making his feature debut after lots of TV work. He, cinematographer Paul Cameron and editor Tim Murrell manage to keep things moving briskly enough to smooth over the plot holes and absurdities. In the end, though, except for the bigger budget, more explicit violence and starrier cast, it’s not appreciably different from the police fare that proliferates on network television every night.