’21 Bridges’ Movie Review: An Episode of ‘Blue Bloods’ with Movie Stars

Cop movies used to be a staple of Hollywood. They don’t really make regular cop movies anymore, since it’s all superheroes and franchises, and that’s a shame. You can watch Blue Bloods and see cops on TV every week, but if you miss going to see a good old fashioned cop movie in theaters, 21 Bridges may be for you.

Would the ‘Blue Bloods’ ever close the ‘21 Bridges’?

Andre (Chadwick Boseman) is the son of a policeman killed in the line of duty. He grew up to be a cop himself, one whom Internal Affairs is investigating for the amount of shootings in which he’s been involved. Crooks Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephan James) find more cocaine than they expected in a standard holdup and decide to make a run with 50 kilos of it, killing several officers as they shoot their way out.

Chadwick Boseman in 21 Bridges
Chadwick Boseman in 21 Bridges | Matt Kennedy/STXfilms

Andre wants to bring Ray and Michael in alive when the rest of the NYPD just wants payback for the cop killers. Andre orders the 21 bridges leading out of the city closed so Ray and Michael are boxed in. The rivers, tunnels and trains too but those don’t make as cool a title. Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) pairs Ande with narcotics detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) for the night. 

What ‘21 Bridges’ has over ‘Blue Bloods’

All due respect to the cast of Blue Bloods, we love Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg and Bridget Moynahan, but we’re also guaranteed to see them every week. 21 Bridges assembles a cast you can only see on the big screen. Boseman is a superhero and before that played legends like Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. Simmons is an Oscar winner. Miller is a fashion icon to boot.

Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James
Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James in 21 Bridges | Matt Kennedy/STXfilms

There’s more action in 21 Bridges than you can see on CBS every week. The action is intense and thrilling, all designed so the viewer can follow what’s going on. It never gets as outrageous as John Wick. It’s realistic, as it were, but realistic in a world where every shooter makes every shot they take and street chases involve a confluence of vehicles and helicopters. On the ground action has become rarer in movies with flamboyant visual effects, so it’s great to see gritty, hard hitting action again. The violence is unflinching, but not gratuitous.

Since 21 Bridges is set entirely in one night, director Brian Kirk keeps the pace up. This is a world in which killers are legitimately afraid the cops could find them in a single night. 21 Bridges can spend more time with Ray and Michael too, in their parallel journey to Andre. 

Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller are blue bloods in New York
Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller in 21 Bridges | Matt Kennedy/STXfilms

There’s no Blue Bloods dinner table scene because it’s all after hours, but there are moments when characters can debate the philosophy of when to pull the trigger. Plus, Andre wants to take Ray and Michael alive. All the other cops are gunning for them, which makes it a challenge just to do his job, let alone be noble. It’s a provocative look at modern policing while still entertaining.

Bring back cop movies

When cop movies proliferated in movie theaters, nobody expected one to reinvent the wheel. The hook would be how the film handled the genre. Dirty Harry could be a morally complicated cop. Eddie Murphy could be a funny Beverly Hills Cop. Mismatched partners could be fun. They don’t really play Andre and Frankie as a mismatched Lethal Weapon duo. That’s not the angle of 21 Bridges.

It is still a plot about dirty cops whom Andre has to expose, and cops facilitating drug deals. That part is still generic, but 21 Bridges is a solid exploration of the genre. Again, the scarcity of that, save for television, makes it more forgiving. The twists can be predictable too but it’s entertaining to watch them play out. It may not keep you guessing, but it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

J.K. Simmons, Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller
L-R: J.K. Simmons, Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller | Matt Kennedy/STXfilms

The cast is committed and the filmmakers delivered high production value to remind viewers why it’s worth leaving home to see cops solve the case. And if you like these kind of cop movie, support 21 Bridges so they’ll make more.