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Movie review: ’21 Bridges’ fails to develop characters with archetypal action-movie plot

(Courtesy of Matt Kennedy)

"21 Bridges

Directed by Brian Kirk

STX Films

Nov. 22

By Mark McGreal

Nov. 22, 2019 8:25 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 23 at 5 p.m.

“21 Bridges” is the prototypical action movie: entertaining and shallow. People get shot. A male protagonist cares more about justice than his mental health. Same old, same old.

And, in keeping with sub-par action movie tradition, the film skips over emotional depth and three-dimensional character development. Directed by the relatively unknown Brian Kirk, “21 Bridges” instead features mind numbing car-chases and gun fights galore. The film stars Chadwick Boseman in his first role since appearing in “Avengers: Endgame” earlier this year and premieres Nov. 22. But unfortunately, Boseman’s newest role fails to utilize his skill set, pairing an unreasonable premise with a surface level character.

After a bank robbery gone wrong leaves eight New York Police Department cops dead, Detective Andre Davis (Boseman) takes sudden and drastic measures to catch the killers – namely, closing all the bridges and tunnels in and out of Manhattan. Approximately 23 square miles, Manhattan isn’t large by any means, but shutting down the entire island simply seems impractical. Sure, the crime takes place late at night, and there are scenes of mass police mobilization, but shutting down the epicenter of New York City isn’t likely, even with the greatest suspension of disbelief.

[Related: Movie review: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ manages to steer through the action with well-rounded drama]

Nevertheless, the mayor shuts down the island, as well-edited and dramatic action sequences lead Davis to the realization there is more to this botched robbery than meets the eye. The scenes are quick enough to keep the audience on the edge of their seat without happening so fast that audiences can still grasp enough of a composition of every shot. The action sequences are well-executed but uninspired, just like the rest of the film. Even the quieter scenes are dragged down by cliche dialogue about heavy-handed subjects of justice and morality, but these scenes are still enjoyable, if a little cringe-worthy at times.

And it’s not just the intense dialogue that bogs down the film, as themes of law and authority end up overused and much too on the nose. The uninspiring focus on justice leads to not only a mediocre message, but also Boseman’s blandness. Davis might be hunting vigorously for the cop killers, but his inability to step outside the lines of justice diminishes his performance to something one-dimensional and robotic.

However, Boseman’s lack of depth isn’t his fault. Known for his role in the Marvel Cinematic Franchise as Black Panther, Boseman has more than proven his emotional range and capabilities. The veteran actor was weighed down by a script so focused on building Davis up as an angel of justice that it neglects to build him up as a person.

Davis doesn’t care about anything besides the pursuit of justice. He apologizes to his mother (Adriane Lenox) for working a triple shift early in the movie, and internal affairs investigates him for killing multiple criminals before the film starts. He never strays from his idea of moral right and wrong, and his character never compromises.

[Related: Movie review: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ lives up to hype, provides perfect conclusion to franchise]

The plot also fails to provide Boseman’s character a solid background and thus makes him unsympathetic to viewers. His father’s murder was the linchpin for spurring Davis’ actions, but other than that, the film neglects to focus on any other connection he might have with his family. His mother is shown briefly then forgotten about altogether, a somewhat insensitive oversight, given that her character suffers from some sort of memory loss.


Davis’ closest mentor in the film would have been Deputy Chief Spencer (Keith David), but even his character adds little to the overall film. While Spencer appears in several scenes, placing a comforting hand on Davis’s shoulder during his father’s funeral, and embracing him at the crime scene, little is actually said about their relationship.

And what’s even more criminal is that Spencer seems to leave the film as quickly as he arrived, sacrificing the chance to utilize David, a prolific actor who is known for strong performances. This robs Boseman of his chance to add more depth to his character too, since a pseudo-father figure would have provided more emotional depth.

And yet, despite the lack of dynamic characters, the film is still no doubt entertaining, flying by with its 99 minute run time. The film is fast-paced, well-edited with well-coordinated fight scenes, but sadly surface level. Outside the question of justice, it doesn’t touch on greater themes of family and vengeance. The drama and action is fine, but it creates a boring example of how the world should work instead of how it actually does.

Attempted strong performances by A-List actors can only take a film so far, especially when the dialogue feels campy and Kirk’s directorial effort lacks originality. There’s no reason for audiences to see the film in theaters when “21 Bridges” is easily a more generic version of “L.A. Confidential” and shares similar story lines with the recently released “Black and Blue.”

“21 Bridges” is an unsophisticated version of “Black Panther”, and audiences would be better off saving their money and rewatching the seminal Marvel film at home instead.

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Mark McGreal
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