The cop thriller is a genre of movie that isn’t going away anytime soon. As long as certain kinds of cops make headlines for all the wrong reasons, Hollywood wants to churn out their own take on those cops. There was a cop thriller earlier this year called Black and Blue that dealt with corruption in the police force. I skipped it because the premise felt a little too close to the headlines. At the risk of being slightly hypocritical, I was looking forward to seeing 21 Bridges, which boasts an impressive cast led by Chadwick Boseman.
Casting Boseman in the lead makes sense, in a way. Cops in general are seen by the public as heroes who, at the end of the day, are just as mortal as we are. With Boseman hot off the cultural phenomenon Black Panther, he now has the opportunity to expand his acting chops that were previously showcased in a handful of biopics he did. Even as the best part of 21 Bridges, however, he can’t save the movie from hitting all the cliches of any other cop thriller.
21 Bridges follows Chadwick Boseman as Andre Davis, an NYPD detective haunted by his father’s death in the line of duty. He gets a call in the middle of the night about a robbery gone wrong. When he arrives on the crime scene, he finds a large stash of uncut cocaine and eight officers dead. In an attempt to catch the two cop killers, he shuts down every exit off the island of Manhattan and is given until daylight to find them. Every now and then, the film focuses on the two killers trying to get away alive.
I’ve been a fan of movies taking place in a shortened time span since the first time I saw Michael Mann’s Collateral. In this movie, the shortened time frame raises the stakes. When Andre first requests a city wide lock-down to the FBI, they look at him like he’s crazy. But they know he’s determined to bring these criminals to justice. It’s this kind of drive that powers Andre through the film. Getting an actor like Chadwick Boseman was smart because he elevates the character from these cliches. The supporting cast of Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch, Sienna Miller, Keith David and J.K. Simmons also make the most of what they’re given, but they can only do so much for their familiar characters.
The manhunt in the movie is pretty engaging. The tension is always cranked up by the cat-and-mouse chase, some pretty cool shootouts and (as mentioned before) setting this in the span of a few hours. What doesn’t work, however, is a reveal towards the end about a couple of the cops involved in the manhunt. The criminals hold a jump drive containing information that could sink most of the precinct. When Andre gets a hold of this information, he confronts one of the cops at the end of the movie. I won’t give away what the information is or who is involved, but the confrontation took me out of the film.
A tighter movie could’ve been made just about the manhunt and kept at around an hour and a half. Hell, make it longer and give us some character development. But as it stands now, 21 Bridges is just another cop thriller elevated by Chadwick Boseman’s lead performance. There are plenty of better cop movies out there, even some cop shows on TV are more memorable. I have a feeling I’ll forget this movie pretty quickly because nothing else really stood out for me. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll be entertained enough. But like me, you’ll be wishing for something better.