*******Spoilers for 21 Bridges below*******
Action movies are the best when you can describe them with a big name and one short sentence. Going just on that criteria, 21 Bridges is already one of the best out there: “Chadwick Boseman plays an NYPD Detective who shuts down the island of Manhattan to hunt down two violent criminals.” It really doesn’t get much better than that. And, that’s exactly what the movie delivers. Nothing more, nothing less. Once it steps away from that idea it loses much of the steam it gained from the face paced nature of the first hour or so. Much of that steam comes, surprisingly, from the “bad guys'” storyline.
Taylor Kitsch has always been pretty underrated and this role proves it. He lets loose and fully throws himself into the role of the violent and slightly unhinged Ray, a former Marine with a penchant for finding himself in bloody conflicts. Somehow, despite the violence we see occur at his hands, he even dies somewhat sympathetically. Stephan James is equally as great as his running mate, a more sympathetic man named Michael who knows he’s caught up in something he shouldn’t have any part in. J.K. Simmons and Sienna Miller both bring their A-game to roles that could’ve been much more mustache-twirly in the hands of lesser talents. For my money though, Alexander Siddig gives the film’s best performance as Adi, the professional fixer. He hams it up every second he’s on-screen and is obviously having the most fun with the material.
Speaking of fun, 21 Bridges is at its best when at its most playful. That doesn’t mean there are moments of gut-busting laughter but there are definitely more sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek moments. What’s really impressive though is that those moments don’t water down the film’s more serious moments. All of it is tied together by some pretty incredible direction and some of the year’s best action direction. There’s one particularly tense stand-off near the end that essentially used the camera as a third character in the action and came out looking really smooth.
Overall, that’s the one word that I think best describes 21 Bridges: smooth. It knows what it is and knows what it’s not. It delivers a fun, relatively short, face-paced action thriller with fantastic direction and fun performances. It’s nowhere near the smartest thriller to come out in the last few years but, again, it doesn’t really set out to be that. There are a few moments at the end where you could interpret some sort of anti-police agenda at play I guess. But, the criticism it levies is only really valid within the context of the film and will only bother you if you’re looking for a reason to be upset.
21 Bridges delivers on the promise of a competent action thriller that has fun with a wacky premise. The film’s last 20 or so minutes, dramatically, don’t live up to the rest of the film but the action on display is still as slick as it comes. It flirts with a few socially conscious themes but doesn’t dive too heavy into them as not to alienate any part of the audience. Because of that, it’d be really hard to walk away from this one without having a good time.
You can catch 21 Bridges in theaters now.