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Review: 21 Bridges – “Itchy trigger finger entertainment”

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There is nothing remotely subtle about 21 Bridges. In fact, it has the nuance and refinement of a drunken all-night Call of Duty session in a smoky university dorm. Still, there is much charm and comfort to be found in its desperately old-school, nuts-and-bolts form; think Tony Scott or John Carpenter, and you’re probably in the right boat.

Irish director Brian Kirk injects earthy, rugged life into the neon-soaked streets of New York City; his feverish playground for drug-slinging, cop-killing crooks, and the gaggle of “Blue” up against both the odds and the clock. Unfolding over one fateful night, 21 Bridges benefits from an urgency which makes proceedings exciting even if they’re so brutally tried-and-tested, you could probably predict the next line of recycled dialogue spat from Chadwick Boseman’s mouth.

The film opens with a botched armed robbery – one which takes a drastic and devastating left-turn, leaving a mass of New York City police officers killed. What should have been a simple drugs snatch turns into bloody murder for Michael Trujillo (Stephan James), and Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch). Boseman’s hard-boiled detective, Andre “Dre” Davis, is called to the scene; greeted by unprecedented massacre and anguish as the state’s police department mourns.

Paired off with rough-and-tumble narcotics detective, Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), the duo hatch a desperate plan to capture the two wanted criminals – the trouble is, in a city like New York, they could escape to anywhere; vanishing into the night or cloaked by the hoards of city dwellers.

Davis calls for the city’s authorities to shut all the bridges in and out of Manhattan (hence the title), loop all the subway trains, and seize all rail and aerial travel. He gridlocks New York’s heartbeat and cages the crooks inside its many skyscraper-laden streets, but time is of the essence. All the bridges must be reopened by dawn, so there’s only a finite window to capture America’s Most Wanted.

At 110 minutes, the film thrusts audience right into the thick from the get-go, and it’s all the better for it. Nobody will see 21 Bridges for its dialogue or performances; they want fierce shoot-outs, and high-octane chase sequences. Pacy popcorn fun is on the menu, and it’s precisely what’s served. Sure, this is a largely hollow, forgettable film, but one which delivers itchy trigger finger entertainment by the minute; just what the doctor ordered.

The film’s flagship scene is an extended pursuit which sees Davis travel on foot through the Manhattan streets before plunging underground into the subway. The camera whips and tracks with great control; enabling the action to unfold in broad, enveloping takes. There are guns, there’s crashing cars, there are fisticuffs, there are people thrown to the floor in the heat of the chase; it offers basically everything you could want from a proper, unadulterated action sequence. And Kirk shoots it – and indeed the vast majority of the movie – with impressive skill. Paired with cinematographer Paul Cameron, they elevate 21 Bridges to more than just a B-Movie with A-Listers.

Influence of Cameron’s own work on Michael Mann’s incredible Collateral (2004) shines throughout. His New York has a grimy, urban aura; one thick with danger and peril. It is both a thrilling and terrifying place to reside, and you really feel the weight of location during the film’s pivotal moments. Because the city is in itself a character here; tasked with serving as the primary environment for the action, and the trap which our criminals should hopefully fall into.

Late on, there is a twist (well, I guess you can call it that if you don’t see it coming, which you will), and it doesn’t really work. The central crime is far more interesting and kickstarts the action, but the latter development tries its best to add more texture and drama to a film entirely void of any. Co-writers Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan clearly think 21 Bridges is a smarter, more potent film than it actually is, and their third act is proof of that. It doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but very little reward or gain comes from its inclusion.

The performances are perfectly serviceable; particularly given the gum-bitingly clichéd dialogue they are tasked with delivering. Boseman is an enjoyable leading man, and is given a platform to absorb some much-deserved limelight. Miller too is entertaining in a particularly muscular role which clearly gives her much enjoyment to relish in. J.K. Simmons pops up too, and does some serious swearing, so there’s that.

21 Bridges will not ignite the box office, nor will it cement itself in your memory for longer than a day, but it will slap a big, goofy smile on your face. This is no-nonsense, all-action genre entertainment; brimming with dumb lines, spraying bullets, and big, boisterous set pieces. A great choice for a Friday night flick.

21 Bridges is out now in UK cinemas courtesy of STX International

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