Though it wasn’t the last film he made, the police action thriller, 21 Bridges, is being released in Japan just as the late Chadwick Boseman has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar that most bookies say he’s going to win. Boseman stars in and produces the movie, which doesn’t add much to his repertoire and feels like something he took on in the hopes of broadening his appeal among the general public. But after playing Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Black Panther, his trigger-happy NYPD detective feels a bit generic even if he does inject the role with a canny blend of intensity and mystery. More to the point, the movie’s own generic bona fides feel a little out-of-line given the way American black people and the police, especially the New York City police, have been interacting for the past several years.
Thus the opening scene comes off as an inadvertent blast of cognitive dissonance. A child sits in church at the funeral of his policeman father, who was killed by drug addicts, probably during that period in the 80s when crack swept the city and destroyed a lot of black families. The fact that the child and his father are black is enough of a head-scratcher in terms of launching a plot, but the minister’s sermon, which celebrates the fact that the policeman killed two of his attackers before he himself was killed, is chilling in its implications. And then the child grows up to be Andre Davis (Boseman), a detective with a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later.
Davis’s reason to exist as a movie protagonist is tested by two seemingly small-time thieves who attempt to heist a shipment of cocaine and find that it’s three times as big as they had originally thought. Not only that, but they are met with an army of policemen that results in a massacre of said law enforcement. The two fugitives are now the target of Davis, who closes down the whole island of Manhattan in the belief that they are still there and sends pretty much the whole force out to track them down. It doesn’t take a David Simon to figure out that at least a few of the cops had something to do with the coke shipment in the first place, and none of them are Davis. The viewer develops this realization at the same time Davis does, and most of the movie involves the detective manuevering around his colleagues while hunting down the fugitives, all the while wondering who is crooked and who isn’t.
Meanwhile, director Brian Kirk crowds the frame with multiple shootouts and car chases that make the time pass pleasantly enough, and in the end you have to hand it to everyone involved that the movie is as entertaining as it is given the subtext. It should be pointed out that the equal-opportunity fugitives, one white, one black, are given a sympathetic back story, and the movie is at least partialy redeemed by the notion that the black cop is punishing his white co-workers for their double-edged privilege. But that’s not what the movie is mainly about. It’s about one cop doing what’s right in a manichean world that doesn’t really exist.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Humax Cinema (03-3462-2539), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
21 Bridges home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2019 STX Financing, LLC