21 Bridges: Juicy gunplay, but a bonkers plot

Review: Is this the best we can hope for now from cop thrillers?

21 Bridges
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Director: Brian Kirk
Cert: 15A
Genre: Crime
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, Stephan James, Keith David, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Siddig, JK Simmons, Morocco Omari, Louis Cancelmi
Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins

Much hilarity has already gathered around publicity claims that this nippy, silly cop thriller comes from “visionary producers Anthony Russo and Joseph Russo”. I guess Avengers: Endgame contains evidence that Anthony and Joe can see well enough. Robert Downey Jr is almost always facing in the right direction. Scarlett Johansson is walked into no walls. But still.

Let's give limited credit where it is due. Brian Kirk, Northern Irish director of Game of Thrones and underrated movie Middletown, is behind the camera and he just about makes sense of a plot that meanders from the cookie-cutter to the bonkers.

Chadwick Boseman is charismatic as an honest cop dragged to a multiple murder in the wee hours of a New York morning. It looks as if two small-time hoodlums (Stephen James and Taylor Kitsch) got more than they bargained for when they broke into an upmarket restaurant. Having happened upon millions of dollars' worth of uncut cocaine, they shoot their way past the suspiciously prompt cops and find themselves at the centre of a manhunt.

Movies love a deadline. All of Manhattan is closed off – including the eponymous 21 Bridges – giving Chad and his associates until 5am to find the killers.


The wrong sort of mysteries abound. Would the authorities really close off Manhattan to keep even multiple cop killers within its borders? I know that happened in the early levels of Grand Theft Auto IV, but I’ve learned not to use video games as my sole source for American criminal procedure. Is that Sienna Miller playing Chad’s partner? If you think it’s her then it usually isn’t. It is her? And she’s doing Top Cat’s Brooklyn accent on purpose? Wonders never cease.

For all those clunks, Kirk and Boseman keep the action ticking along effectively towards a denouement that is less surprising than it is satisfactory. Bits of Philadelphia are worked in with iconic New York locations to create a believable version of that city. The gunplay is juicy.

One is, nonetheless, left wondering why this is the best we can now hope for from a cop thriller on theatrical release. Great books by Don Winslow and James Ellroy yell to be adapted, but the multiplexes are at home to little else but superheroes. At least "visionary producers Anthony Russo and Joseph Russo" are making an effort.

Opens on November 22nd

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist