Friday, November 22, 2019

21 Bridges: Boseman Protects and Serves

In this street-smart New York manhunt thriller, the cops deeply resent the grandstanding mayor, who has often thrown them under the bus. Yes, you can definitely say it is “ripped from the headlines”—recent headlines. We soon suspect a cabal of dirty cops could be the ultimate cause of all the trouble, so it is also ripped from 1970’s Serpico era headlines as well. Det. Andre Davis has a reputation for unholstering his firearm, making him the perfect point-man to track down two desperate cop-killers, but he turns out to be more of a loose cannon than anyone bargained for in Brian Kirk’s 21 Bridges, which opens today nationwide.

Ray Jackson and Michael Trujillo thought they had been recruited to steal 30 kilos of cocaine, but they find 300 kilos instead. For them, that is way too much of a “good thing.” Almost immediately thereafter, a firefight ensues with four Brooklyn cops, who did not arrive responding to any calls, before getting blown away by the better armed criminals. Subsequently, they fatally shoot four more officers legitimately dispatched to the scene, fleeing into Manhattan, in search of a buyer and a money-launderer. It is a mess that the local precinct captain and the deputy chief want Davis to clean up—permanently.

Given the considerable quantity of uncut coke recovered, local drug squad detective Frankie Burns will ride shotgun with Davis, whether he likes it or not. She seems tough enough, but many of her trigger-happy colleagues keep getting in his way. Nevertheless, Davis steadily closes in on his targets, thanks to his strategy the useless mayor agrees to implement. Every tunnel, train, ferry, and bridge (yes, all 21 of them) providing access out of Manhattan will be locked-down from 1:00 to 5:00 (so as not to interrupt the financial markets).

Basically, screenwriters Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan want the audience to hate cops. However, their propaganda campaign is sabotaged by the steely but charismatic performance of their star, Chadwick Boseman. His intense screen presence is still acutely human, winning over viewer’s sympathy and largely carrying the film. Boseman and Sienna Miller, as Burns, nicely play good cop-bad cop together, but it is debatable which is which.

The character of Burns is also a little underwritten, but that is true for most of the supporting players. Ironically, Taylor Kitsch’s portrayal of Jackson, the crazy, pseudo-sociopathic cop-killer is the film’s second most distinctive turn and memorable character. Without question, he is much more interesting than Stephan James’s work as Trujillo, the sensitive, reluctant cop-killer. J.K. Simmons does his usual blow-hard authority-figure thing as the captain, but he is never boring to watch. Frustratingly, the great Keith David (The Thing, narrator of Ken Burns’ Jazz) is totally squandered as the deputy chief. On the other hand, Alexander Siddig adds some flair as Adi the launderer.

In his jump from television to theatrical features, Kirk stages some brutally tense gun fights. Frankly, this is one of the better helmed American action movies in recent years, but as social commentary, it is not so great. Still, Boseman shows he has real action chops in a more grounded context than superhero films. Det. Davis is also a character one could see sustaining a franchise. After all, his policing methods are essentially sound and we need a successor to Dirty Harry. Recommended for Boseman’s grit and guns, 21 Bridges opens today (11/22) across the country, including the AMC Empire in New York.