Thursday, 20 February 2020

‘21 Bridges’ police procedural works on a ticking clock

‘21 BRIDGES’ (Rated R)

There are several good reasons to enjoy the ticking clock deadline imposed on a NYPD detective leading a citywide manhunt on the island of Manhattan for a pair of cop killers in a drug heist gone horribly wrong in “21 Bridges.”

The detective who devises the desperate but ingenious plan to close all avenues into and out of Manhattan is played by the charismatic Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed the legendary, iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in “42.”

Boseman also depicted the story of Thurgood Marshall, as a crusading civil rights lawyer who would later become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, in “Marshall.” On top of that, who can forget his role as Black Panther in “Captain America: Civil War?”

As the fulcrum around whom the police activity is centered one fateful night, Boseman’s Andre Davis has had the DNA of a New York cop ever since his police officer father was killed by violent criminals when he was just a kid.

Andre’s reputation is such that he has, metaphorically speaking, several notches on his gun for taking out cop killers, which put him in the crosshairs of an Internal Affairs hearing. He could be a Dirty Harry if “21 Bridges” turns into a franchise.

While Chadwick Boseman’s compelling, earnest detective is probably the best feature in what in many ways is an exciting but still relatively standard police procedural, finely paced chase sequences and daring shootouts make for plenty of lively action.

The ill-fated night of the drug heist begins when two hapless, obtuse crooks, Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch), break into a restaurant to steal 50 kilos of uncut cocaine stashed in the freezer.

Before they make a clean getaway, a slew of police officers from the 85th Precinct show up. A blazing shootout results in the death of all eight of the police officers and one civilian inside the restaurant.

NYPD Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) arrives at the crime scene and so does detective Andre Davis. Knowing of Andre’s reputation, McKenna’s interest is in nothing less than seeing that street justice, if necessary, be meted out before the night is over.

When Andre comes up with the plan to shut down all 21 bridges that connect Manhattan to other boroughs of the city as well as New Jersey, he’s ordered by the brass to track down the cop killers by early dawn, so as not to inconvenience daily commuters.

Much to his chagrin and because he functions better as the lone crusader for justice if not retribution, Andre finds himself saddled with a partner in narcotics detective Frankie Miller (Sienna Miller), a single mom filled with apprehension about surviving the night.

One major problem for the two killers, aside from the fact that the trigger-happy Ray is a psychotic live-wire, is that the total amount of cocaine stashed at the restaurant was 300 kilos, which raises questions about who’s behind an obviously huge narcotics ring.

Questions are also swirling in the mind of Andre, as well as for the audience. How did it come to pass that so many police officers from the same precinct arrived on the crime scene when there was no evidence of a break-in and no alarms went off?

Moreover, Michael and Ray were under the impression that their holdup at the restaurant was to be a modest heist of a fraction of the actual cocaine stash on hand. Sensing a set-up, they have to unload the drugs fast with an unsavory bunch of thugs.

The conspiracy deepens when the killers seek out money launderer Adi (Alexander Siddig) at his luxury apartment where an apocalyptic gunfight is waged on both sides of a steel-reinforced door before they escape with a bag of cash and two thumb drives with incriminating evidence.

For a variety of reasons, Andre doesn’t know who to trust among his colleagues in law enforcement, including a pair of FBI agents that appear invested in a certain outcome.

Getting at the truth results at one juncture in having Andre showing great restraint, contrary to his usual approach, when trying to reason with the more sensible Michael that his chances of survival hinge on the release of a hostage.

Most people will hardly notice or care that most of the filming took place in Philadelphia, with the notable exception of location shots at such places as Grand Central Station and the Meatpacking District. What counts is that the essence of the underbelly of New York City is neatly captured on film.

The ticking clock countdown to an early morning deadline raises the stakes on all sides and the revelation of corruption that detective Andre Davis uncovers is not altogether surprising.

Explosive action is intrinsic to the spectacle and thrills of “21 Bridges” and the intensity of the action results in an overall satisfying police thriller, but the lead detective’s crafty pursuit of his prey is what deserves our attention the most.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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