Published Nov 21, 2019Of the innumerable clichés bandied about by film types, one is particularly prolific: When a film is set in New York City, everyone, from critics to filmmakers themselves, like to say that the city is, in a way, its own character. With that in mind, TV director Brian Kirk's debut feature, 21 Bridges, offers a rare if dubious achievement — a film where New York is strictly the setting.
In fact, it's New York-ness is nearly non-existent, save for a few exaggerated New Yawk accents (including Chadwick Boseman exaggeratedly referring to cocaine as "yay"). Considering its plot, that's a very bad thing. After all, the film takes its title from the 21 bridges that bring traffic in and out of Manhattan.
When a pair of small-time criminals (Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch, so far from his Friday Night Lights glory) attempt to rip off a small batch of cocaine from a rival gang, things go horribly wrong. They accidentally steal way too much "yay," and kill seven cops in the process.
The death of seven cops is, bafflingly, enough reason for Boseman's Andre Davis to demand that the mayor of New York City close all of the titular bridges. It's a delicious premise for a Charles Bronson-style action movie, and one that is practically never explored again, save for a handful of extras who look sad to be missing their flights and trains in the background of a few scenes.
Instead, Andre goes on a manhunt through a mostly empty Manhattan (despite no one being allowed to leave) and stumbles upon a conspiracy that's incredibly obvious to anyone that's watching. He's joined by a remarkable array of actors who never quite made the A-list and have barely-there New York accents, including J.K. Simmons and Sienna Miller.
The end result is a faintly frustrating police procedural that threads the needle between being a Blue Lives Matter piece of copaganda and a serious drama with something to say about corruption. It doesn't successfully do either of those things, nor does it let us hang out with our favourite character, New York City. Instead, it just kind of exists.