Story eas­ier than the maths

This New York cop movie is fa­mil­iar — but it’s watch­able, writes Jake Coyle

Mercury (Hobart) - - ENTERTAINM­ENT -

HOW ex­cited James Brown would have been for 21 Bridges.

Take you to bridge? How about 21 of them?

But I sus­pect even the God­fa­ther of Soul would give an easy pass to Brian Kirk’s 21

Bridges, with Chad­wick Bose­man (who played Brown in the biopic Get on Up).

It’s a just-good-enough New York crime thriller, made with suf­fi­cient slinky shad­ows and lead­ing-man charisma to do the trick. Even if its best trick is in­form­ing you, in case you ever won­dered, how many bridges there are cross­ing into Man­hat­tan.

The filmmakers them­selves very nearly got it wrong. The movie’s orig­i­nal ti­tle was 17

Bridges. Ac­count­ing er­rors are one thing, but mis­plac­ing the Queens­boro Bridge plus three more doesn’t ex­actly en­gen­der con­fi­dence in the en­tire en­ter­prise.

For­tu­nately the story is sim­ple, even if the arith­metic isn’t. A drug heist goes awry leav­ing seven cops dead.

An­dre Davis (Bose­man) is put in charge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, largely be­cause of his shoot­first rep­u­ta­tion.

The son of a slain officer, Davis has shot eight peo­ple in nine years. He’s known as “a trig­ger.” And no­body in the force will mind if this case ends with blood­shed.

With the two sus­pects be­lieved to be in Man­hat­tan — thanks to an im­age of them run­ning a light from an over­head cam­era — Davis or­ders the most au­da­cious drag­net in the his­tory of drag­nets: He shuts down Man­hat­tan for the night, stop­ping all trains and fer­ries, shut­ter­ing the tun­nels and, yes, clos­ing all 21 bridges.

Now, Man­hat­tan isn’t ac­tu­ally a me­dieval cas­tle that pro­tects it­self by moat. Be­lieve it not, there are holes in this plan. For starters, you can just about skip a stone across the Har­lem River to the Bronx.

Seal­ing off a sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis like Man­hat­tan would be such a mam­moth un­der­tak­ing that I wish “21 Bridges” dropped the plot and in­stead turned its fo­cus to hys­ter­i­cal tran­sit au­thor­ity of­fi­cials. It could have been one very en­ter­tain­ing traf­fic re­port.

But if the movie’s cen­tral con­ceit — putting Man­hat­tan on lock­down — is laugh­ably im­plau­si­ble, Kirk (who has largely worked in tele­vi­sion) nev­er­the­less in­vests his movie with some genre mus­cle and noirish at­mos­phere.

The whole film takes place at night, as Davis and the nar­cotics officer he’s paired with (Si­enna Miller) hunt their shoot­ers.

The film tells it both from the de­tec­tives’ per­spec­tive and the crim­i­nals (a pair of vet­er­ans played by Stephan James and Tay­lor Kitsch), who stum­bled into 300kg of un­cut co­caine when ex­pect­ing a more small-time heist. That po­lice were ca­su­ally on the scene at the time adds to the mys­tery that un­folds while Davis steadily closes in.

With J.K. Sim­mons play­ing a sus­pi­cious NYPD cap­tain, it’s dispir­it­ingly easy to see where 21 Bridges is head­ing.

But the qual­ity of the ac­tors — par­tic­u­larly James (from If

Beale Street Could Talk) and a nearly un­rec­og­niz­able Kitsch — gives 21 Bridges a heft that its generic story doesn’t de­serve.

Most of all, Bose­man smoothly pre­sides over the movie with poise and com­mand, a fine movie star fi­nally un­en­cum­bered by both the dic­tates of Marvel and the pres­sures of the biopic. (Though Avengers: Endgame di­rec­tors Joe and An­thony Russo are pro­duc­ers.)

The san­i­tiz­ing of Man­hat­tan hasn’t been good for the New York crime movie. There are still pock­ets of scuzzy in­spi­ra­tion to be found (for ex­am­ple, in the Safdie brothers’ Good Time). But, for bet­ter or worse, the New York of The French Con­nec­tion may be long gone.

Now, 21 Bridges briefly al­ludes to that fact, but it’s wholly un­con­nected — de­spite be­ing a movie star­ring a gun-sling­ing po­lice officer — to to­day’s de­bates of ex­ces­sive force.

This is a film crafted well enough to pass the time, but to say it’s any­thing more than that is a bridge too far. 21 Bridges, rated MA15+, is now show­ing.

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