“There are 21 bridges in and out of Manhattan. Shut’em down. Three rivers. Close them. Four tunnels. Block them. Stop every train line that leaves the island – Amtrak, PATH, New Jersey Transit, LIRR—and loop the subways. Then we flood the island with blue.”
That is certainly a dramatic undertaking! Just think of closing down all of Manhattan! That is the hook for 21 Bridges, a police thriller from director Brian Kirk and producers Joe and Anthony Russo.
When a pair of criminals (Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James) steal cocaine from a restaurant used by a drug dealer, they are surprised by some police. In the shootout several police are killed. Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is brought in to investigate, and teamed up with narcotics detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), a single mom struggling with the pressures of life. When it becomes obvious the killers are in Manhattan, and since it’s 2:00 a.m., the decision is made to shut down the island to find the killers. In a race against the clock the killers try to find their way out while Davis and the police zero in on them.
Davis is the real focus of the film. It opens with the words from Romans 13:4 being read at a funeral, and focusing on a child with tears in his eyes. It turns out that this is his father’s funeral, after his father, also a police officer, was killed in the line of duty. That verse, which of worldly authorities executing justice on God’s behalf, color how we see Andre throughout the film.
When we next see Davis, he is meeting with a police board. It turns out he has been involved in eight shootings in nine years—all justifiable. It is no wonder he is chosen to find these killers. No one wants them taken alive—except maybe Davis. The angry precinct captain (J.K. Simmons) is perfectly clear that he sees no point in prolonging the execution of justice. But Davis, we discover is not about killing bad guys—he’s about finding the truth. And the truth turns out to be far more complicated that just shutting down Manhattan. And when the truth is uncovered, Davis is determined to continue to be the manifestation of justice.
The film is very much a story of good vs. evil. However, the clear boundary between the two in the first half of the film becomes more complex in the second half. That makes the biblical quote that opens the film a bit sticky to consider. It is one thing to think of police as working with God’s authority to execute justice (I have some quibbles with this interpretation in the film, but I’ll let that pass), but what about when what we see the police acting in why that is clearly not in line with God’s justice? That becomes the central question of the latter part of the film.
Oh, and the shutting all the bridges, etc.? I think it would make a really interesting film to focus on the logistics of that actually happening. Here it is really a minor plot point that very little actual attention is paid to. I wouldn’t be surprised that a plan to do that exists, but in this film it is far too spur of the moment to really be given credence.
Photos courtesy of STX Financing