Parallel cinematic universe does exist. At least, that’s the case with 21 Bridges. If you are not aware already, the reason those familiar names of Anthony and Joe Russo rang so many bells within you is because they are alternatively known as the Russo Brothers, the duo who brought us the greatest hit from Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) last year; Avengers: Endgame. Unlike in Endgame, the duo returned as producers for 21 Bridges, together with a familiar face within the MCU; Chadwick Boseman. Or he might be better known as what my wife termed him, “that Wakanda dude”.
Of course, it’s not a supernatural event for directors or producers to secure a couple of stars which they had worked with previously. Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy and Christian Bale appeared in at least three of Christopher Nolan’s film. This is not our focus today, but it definitely contributes to 21 Bridges having some striking similarities with the MCU. In 21 Bridges, Chadwick Boseman plays Andre Davis, an unwavering NYPD detective who is, unsurprisingly, longing for his father. To top it off, J. K. Simmons plays Captain McKenna, somewhat a colleague of Andre, with some executive powers. You don’t even have to guess, Simmons’ character is always pissed. Take T’Challa and strip him off his throne, and take Jonah Jameson, replace his office in Daily Bugle with a police headquarters, and voila, 21 Bridges.
Elsewhere, Taylor Kitsch plays Ray Jackson, a mysterious person with proper military training, and suffice to say that he does something along the plot that got Andre hot on his tail. Oh, by the way, Kitsch played Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). And did I mention that Gambit was a member of a thieves’ guild before he joined X-Men?
In 21 Bridges, the first act kick starts the narrative with a somber and traumatic moment of Andre’s past, which had sharpened and fueled him to become the cop-killer killer which he’s known by today. Instantly, there’s no mistaking the film for just any crime TV series, because the often high-angled, creative and constantly-on-the-go scenes are capable enough to tell a side-story on their own. Of course, during the aerial, top-down shot of the cathedral scene, I didn’t know that the deceased was such a revered man, until the moment that every personnel saluted, revealing their white gloves to the camera, instantly establishing his reputation.
Still, for a film coming from the Russo Brothers, I expected no less. The film adhered to a strict, realistic color palette that doesn’t hint even the slightest cue of neo-noir or fantasy, but it works really well with the narrative that 21 Bridges is trying to pull-off. There’s a reason that the crew risked using a color palette that can possibly be perceived as ‘boring’ or ‘normal’ by the audience, and the same can be observed from the dialogue lines, though both of them need the movie-goers to immerse into the story for a little while to realize its intention.
The lines are, to me, a little complex to comprehend and even harder to elaborate. Yes, they were fast. Precise. Well thought over. But it’s the ‘fast’ part that bothered me a little. No doubt, with meticulosity put into the lines before they were shot and put up on screen, they feel interesting to watch, especially scenes where Andre trades barbs with other police personnel or his superior. The mouth-wars are as rapid and accurate as the gunfight often depicted in 21 Bridges, but unfortunately, my hearing lags behind my eyesight, and though my brain could capture and process all the gunfight scenes, my ears struggled to catch and comprehend each and every one of the unstoppable dialogue lines. And strangely, even after a long wait, there were no signs of any humorous lines.
On the flip side, the visuals are pretty sufficient to let you map out where you are in the plot, and they are often done in perfect subtlety and flair. This, is something that I can perpetually appreciate from filmmakers, and I am confident that shouty villains and showy protagonists are not something that the audience will continuously crave for. The villains in 21 Bridges don’t carry big-ass guns and cover every inch of themselves in tattoos. Similarly, Andre doesn’t jump from building to building to pursue the villains.
Yes, after a while, it got pretty clear that the lines and visuals were working towards one common goal; relatability. 21 Bridges aims to be a story that we can relate to reality, so that after experiencing it, the audience will be sure that it has a higher chance of appearing in the news than appearing in their dreams. Sure, without witnessing a crime scene for real, one cannot be too sure that what’s depicted in 21 Bridges is realistic or otherwise. But if you benchmark it against enough samples of other crime films, you will appreciate that the gunfire exchange scenes in 21 Bridges were cooked just right with an appropriate amount of bloodshed and gruesomeness. And to wrap it up, the fast and confident cinematography made those scenes equally satisfying as they were terrifying.
With a strong story-line and equally strong performances by Boseman and Stephan James, assisted by glorious scores by Henry Jackman in the background, it’s hard not to love and be intoxicated with the film, at least along the first two acts. Without any direct link, it came through my mind that James played a better version of a deadly and confused individual than the motion-captured Will Smith in Gemini Man (2019). And don’t get me started on Boseman. His successful transformation from a god (Gods of Egypt, 2016), to a king (Black Panther, 2018), and now, into a cop in 21 Bridges, bothers me, a lot, albeit in a good way. It’s hard to imagine that he’s born for a cop-role like other selected actors, but it’s even harder to deny the natural cool and charm that he brought into Andre Davis. He’s certainly my favorite Hollywood cop figure since the past couple of years.
As the story swirls and spirals into bigger conspiracies, the audience are blessed with more knowledge and teasers of the bigger picture, which unfortunately works both ways. Yes, it keeps the audience occupied and forces them to rewind into earlier scenes, which seemed perfectly normal back then, but starts to feel amiss now. On the other hand, the spectators are placed one step ahead of Andre throughout the narrative, and when the ‘big reveal’ arrives, it doesn’t sound as explosive, because the plot constantly reliefs the pressure from time to time. Which is why the finale didn’t work as well as I thought it would be. There was just not enough juice, action or plot-work to float the final resolve, and as harsh as this may sound, 21 Bridges started to sink right after the climax. Which is rather a missed opportunity, really, because with a little more script scrutinizing and secrecy, 21 Bridges has the caliber to go off with a bang.
With the Russo Brothers’ involvement in the film, 21 Bridges had a high bar to clear, and yet it performed admirably by bringing the audience cinematic-yet-realistic visuals, glorious musical scores and Boseman’s outstanding performance into an otherwise cliche- ridden genre. Though 21 Bridges in some sense is a victim of such cliches itself, it did the right thing by bringing certain complexities into the plot, but regrettably, wasn’t tight-lipped nor secretive enough to keep the momentum going through the final resolve.–The Film Addict