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maryann johanson, striking from a hidden base

21 Bridges movie review: roads to nowhere

21 Bridges red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Bland, predictable cop and crime clichés lacking all urgency and any of the claustrophobia that should come from its high-concept premise. Shutting down Manhattan has zero impact on anything here.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Right, so you probably already know this if you’ve heard about this movie or have any interest in seeing this movie, but the title of 21 Bridges refers to, allegedly, the number of spans that connect Manhattan Island to the rest of the world. I do not know if this is an accurate count — I don’t think it is; I count 17; maybe this is set in an alt-universe? — but it doesn’t matter. Because the point of making this the title of the movie is so the rogue badass cop in charge of the investigation can announce that the only way to catch the bad guys that need to be caught is to shut down all those bridges (however many there are). Close the tunnels, too. Stop the commuter rail in — *ahem* — its tracks. “Loop the subways,” which I don’t even think is a thing, but whatev.

It sounds kinda cool, as the premise for a movie, anyway, and kinda scary. Shut down Manhattan? Is that even possible? Is the (arguable) capital of the planet that vulnerable? The city that never sleeps… forced to take a nap?

21 Bridges JK Simmons Chadwick Boseman Sienna Miller

As do J.K. Simmons and Sienna Miller, Chadwick Boseman’s NYPD colleagues, I scowl at everything here.

Of course it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Something like that happened on 9/11 and in the days after. And again during the big blackout of 2003. I was there for both. Neither was as total a closing-off as this movie proposes. But just a transit shutdown alone can grind the entire city to a halt and strand millions of people who suddenly have no place to be. (Only filmmakers who don’t know New York would suggest that stopping cars from moving around would be a bigger drama than shutting down the subway.) This is true even if a shutdown were happening in the middle of the night, as in 21 Bridges. I’ve been on the subway at 3am. It’s busier than at 3pm.

Here’s the thing: If 21 Bridges has the foggiest notion of what Manhattan looks like and acts like when it is cut off from the rest of the world, and hangs so many people out to dry, it doesn’t show it. It would be such complete chaos that, in fact, it would be amazingly great cover for a couple of guys trying to hide from the police. But everything looks totally normal here, just a regular relatively quiet overnight. This movie offers absolutely no sense of its own basic high-concept premise.

21 Bridges offers a despicable glorification and justification of police violence via Chadwick Boseman’s “hero” cop.

But wait! It’s worse! Cutting Manhattan off from the rest of the world is a total and utter non sequitur to everything happening in 21 Bridges. It has literally no impact on the plot. The hotshot NYPD detective (Chadwick Boseman: Avengers: Endgame, Gods of Egypt) has already figured out that the two gunmen (Stephan James [If Beale Street Could Talk, Selma] and Taylor Kitsch [Only the Brave, American Assassin]) who stole 50 kilos of uncut coke from a restaurant in Brooklyn have no choice but to head to Manhattan in order to sell it — its the only place they’ll find a buyer for that much. The two thieves don’t even attempt to leave Manhattan once they’re there, they’re so busy running around trying to launder their sudden cash windfall and doing other felonious chores. (Honestly, it’s not even clear if the bad guys realize that the city has been shut down; they certainly don’t seem nervous about being cornered or anything. The bad guys are so blah it’s, well, criminal.)

21 Bridges Stephan James Taylor Kitsch

“My man, we have got to get out of this dumb movie now!”

So what’s left? A beyond-predictable “mystery”: if you don’t guess who the real bad guys are here, and what’s really going on from the opening moments of the movie, then you’ve never seen a single movie like this one before. (There have been a lot of movies like this one before.) A despicable glorification and justification of trigger-happy police violence via Boseman’s “hero” Andre Davis, a cop who acts as judge, jury, and executioner by shooting suspects with alarming regularity and insisting he’s always in the right to do so. (He’s still on the force, so his superiors seems to agree with him.) A race against the clock — the cops are given only a few hours to catch their perps before the lockdown will be lifted — in which the clock isn’t ticking; is there even a clock?

There’s no urgency to anything here. There should be a sense of claustrophobia — what with that lockdown and all — and there’s just… nothing. 21 Bridges is a bland pile of clichés, and that’s being kind.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2019’s other theatrical releases.



red light 1 star

21 Bridges (2019) | directed by Brian Kirk
US/Can release: Nov 22 2019
UK/Ire release: Nov 22 2019

MPAA: rated R for violence and language throughout
BBFC: rated 15 (strong violence, language)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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