21 Bridges

The movie movies along quickly, but doesn't feel rushed.

At the start of “21 Bridges,” a job to steal cocaine goes horribly wrong, resulting in the death of several cops and two men, Michael Trujillo (Stephan James) and Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch) become New York’s most wanted men. They’re quickly trapped in Manhattan after the police decide it’s the most likely area for the drugs to be sold on short notice. With brutal action, interesting chemistry, a frantic pace and plenty of twists, “21 Bridges” is a solid action thriller.

Throughout the night, detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) and narcotics specialist Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) rush to find the two cop killers as they try to escape New York, providing an interesting story as both sides are told. Each bit of information given to Davis and Burns slowly unravels the mystery of what went wrong during Trujillo and Jackson’s job. 

On the run, the killers find people willing to buy their drugs, clean their money and create new identities for them. As they move through the night, Trujillo notices strange connections between some of these contacts and their botched job, such as a load of cocaine being 10 times more than expected where they’re stealing it. Both parties continue to unravel these threads throughout the chase, resulting in the discovery of deep conspiracies that lead to several twists like dirty cops.

Davis’ calm and collected nature conflicts with much of the police force and the FBI as he attempts to keep the criminals alive. This creates a fascinating contrast as Davis chastises panicked officers who sometimes shoot before asking questions, especially when finding possible connections to Trujillo and Jackson. At times, this impedes everyone’s progress, as potential leads are suddenly gone due to a rash decision. These opposing ways of acting create tension as officers attempt to kill Trujillo and Jackson on sight after being explicitly told by Davis to keep them alive.

Trujillo and Jackson’s side of the story is a fascinating peek into the minds of differing criminals. Jackson is a ruthless man who chooses violence as his first option, leading to the death or injury of many cops. On the other hand, Trujillo refuses to attack anyone without just cause, and often reacts poorly to the potential consequences of Jackson’s actions. 

This provides a compelling dynamic as Trujillo grows increasingly nervous while working with Jackson to escape the police due to Jackson’s reckless behavior. Despite this, Jackson depends on Trujillo because he’s the detail-oriented partner who knows what the cargo they carry is worth. Trujillo avoids being scammed and can sense when the pair is offered a good deal for the services they require, such as putting their money covertly into foreign bank accounts.

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The film never slows down and always builds suspense. From the moment the killers begin their drug run until the very end, it’s easy for the audience to remain captivated. In what would normally be dull moments of exposition, Jackson’s tendency toward violence and each person’s need to rush keeps the film moving forward at a rapid pace. Every scene feels like it has purpose without overstaying its welcome, such as Davis analyzing a crime scene once he and Burns have enough of an idea of where to find the killers. 

“21 Bridges” effectively puts every character into a rush, allowing the film to move along smoothly. Contrasting personalities within the police and the cop killers lead to interesting conflicts between them. With slick action and a solid mystery, the film is sure to leave any audience member entertained throughout.

Contact Caleb Barbachem at barbaccf@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.