Reviewed by: Ruth Eshuis
New York City Police Department (NYPD)
The many difficulties and stresses of being a police detective or officer
Murder of police
About the fall of humanity to worldwide depravity
What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Is it just “bad people” that are sinners, or are YOU a sinner? Answer
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
Temptations for authorities to take goods, power or action that are not theirs to take
What is JUSTICE? What does the Bible say about it? Answer
Chadwick Boseman … André Davis
Christian Isaiah … Young André
J.K. Simmons … NYPD Captain
Sienna Miller … NYPD Detective
Taylor Kitsch … Ray
Keith David … NYPD Deputy Chief
Stephan James … Michael
Michael Antonio … Officer Baker
John Crann … Officer Brown
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Huayi Brothers [Hong Kong]
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“The only way out is through him”
I thought that perhaps this film would have strong connections to the Bible and lessons relating to Jesus, our only way out of sin. Though Jesus will not disappoint our hopes, “21 Bridges” certainly does.
The hero of the story is André Davis (Chadwick Boseman), a 32-year-old police detective who specializes in taking down cop-killers. We first meet him as a 13-year-old (Christian Isaiah) at his policeman father’s funeral, with tears tracing down his cheek as he drinks in the reverend’s warning from Romans 13 about governing authorities who are the “avenging servants of God” (more on that later).
Next, we see him as a ‘fearless, inquisitive’ adult in an Internal Affairs interview where he is defending his actions and attitudes. André is presented as a healthy, balanced man despite his tragic adolescence. He receives flak from colleagues who think he’s either too trigger-happy or too compassionate, but he stands firm.
André is assigned a startling new case, where 8 police have been murdered in one robbery-gone-wrong, which also involves a massive stash of high-grade cocaine. His main contacts are a detective from Narcotics named Burns (Sienna Miller), and a foul-mouthed NYPD captain named McKenna (J.K. Simmons).
While the determined criminals Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch) are fleeing for their lives, trying to trade large packets of powder for cash, André quickly applies his mind to working through the facts and builds profiles of the two cop-killers. He persuades the team of investigators to close off all Manhattan island’s 21 bridges in order to draw out the suspects and to reassure the public as soon as possible. As a result, the film is set entirely in New York and mostly on Manhattan Island, in the streets, meat-packing district and several seedy hideaways.
Clues and brief conversations with the crooks reveal a worryingly extensive network of police corruption which can only be exposed if André maintains a steadfast, selfless commitment to truth and justice.
Simply put, the negatives massively outweigh any positives. Violence is glorified, bad language is far too frequent to ignore, mental illness triggers abound, and the moviemaking contains many annoying traits and inconsistencies. Allow me to explain.
Unlike classic, clean action films, this one dwells on sin in consistently unhealthy ways. Beyond the usual gunfights, chases and showdowns, much is made of powerful weaponry, the allure of drugs and megabucks, the masks, the criminals’ muscular torsos, and the thrill of switching identities and running from the red and blue flashing lights through areas with dance clubs, drug dealer dens and shiny steel kitchens.
Unnecessary gore and imaginative injuries are included as though someone has enjoyed coming up with them, in the horror movie manner, and *SPOILER* the majority of characters have been killed by the end *END SPOILER*. I counted an annoying 77 f-words, which are mostly spoken by authorities, not criminals. And every significant corrupt cop or villain somehow has time to provide a motive and explanation that nudges viewers to feel sorry for them!
More minor issues include product placements for Rolex® and BMW®, a grand soundtrack better suited to a Broadway stage show, several actors who over-act, and melodramatic styling which creates an atmosphere reminiscent of both “Law and Order” and a daytime soap opera.
Political messages are also embedded (though some are realistic in terms of respect for racial tensions) and few women are seen, only one of whom could be called a positive role model. There’s also a complete lack of medical professionals responding to emergencies, and scant sight of the public or mention of the huge ramifications of shutting down such a large island’s thoroughfares.
In addition, the film fails to deliver on promised aspects. One of the trailers has a rap soundtrack, yet the film contains no rap music whatsoever. I expected there’d be some action on one of the 21 bridges, but apart from a few aerial shots the film doesn’t visit any. Another trailer heavily features quotes from the police captain who seems clean and wise, yet in the film he’s the complete opposite—in fact I’m surprised they had any footage of him to use which didn’t include f-words. And though quotes from Scripture and a reverend form the important basis for the movie’s themes, it’s mainly a case of filmmakers cherry-picking from the Bible to suit their own purposes.
The whole film involves references to crime, drugs and Satan-like excuses for evil, and life is not particularly valued. As a result, several people consider suicide, or welcome a hopeless death. Frequent sudden loud bangs occur, murders are lingered upon, and there is much dread.
So, while some secular viewers may enjoy the film for various reasons, would a discerning Christian return satisfied from watching “21 Bridges”? I greatly doubt it.
I suppose the one big positive is the main character, André, who is a relatively decent man. Out of the pain of losing his ‘perfect’ cop father in awful circumstances, André has managed to face fears and rise above hatred to see the humans behind the crimes. He has ended the lives of 7 cop-killers in the line of duty, but he insists that each is “only with due cause;” in fact, one criminal laments that André is “the only cop… who listens first and shoots second,” rather than the other way around. Of course, there are appropriate times for each of these approaches, and it has helped him rise to the top of his profession.
Another issue well done and worth discussing is respect for governing authorities, and the generally accepted idea that it is particularly evil to attack an officer of the law who is charged with keeping society safe. And in turn these officers are to be careful to maintain the finest character and conduct. A reverend at André’s father’s funeral quotes it in part but here is all of Romans 13:1-5 where Paul addresses this:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” —Romans 13:1-5
Note that the context in which this apostle writes to his church is one where many of the governing authorities may be corrupt or cruel, in a similar way to what we see occurring in the New York of “21 Bridges.” Thus, our attitude to authorities is to be shaped primarily by reverence for God and His institutions, rather than by how good our authorities are.
Interestingly, the film does also raise a few reasons why authorities become frustrated, such as the enormous stress that they and their marriages are placed under, but André refuses to turn a blind eye as a result. Thus the film doesn’t gloss over the trespasses of law and order authorities, and that at least is certainly one positive feature.
We have already discussed several difficulties with this movie’s view of law and order issues, and its taste for evil. A few other issues warrant mention.
André is certainly presented as a savior figure, seeming to do no wrong in the average viewer’s eyes. Nevertheless, he uses expletives and recklessness at times, and appears to think nothing of those crooks he kills as ‘collateral damage.’ In contrast, as Christians we know that each life is valuable to God, no matter how broken, and we ought to extend the same dignity to our neighbor that we’d want extended to us, in protecting the precious gift of life and caring about their hearts and eternal destiny.
Is there much mention of religion, faith or the occult? André’s elderly mom, living in his house and appearing to be struggle with dementia, is particularly religious. She wears a crucifix on a necklace and has raised André with great respect and strong values. After André comes home from a hard day at work, she acknowledges how hard he works and admires: “You gotta look the devil in the eye.” Her son mulls this over and later adapts it for his own usage, saying, “I prefer to look the devil in the eye.”
But by saying this, I don’t think he’s expressing any sort of desire for Satan or satanic things. Instead it may be a common response to trauma and evil, where a person becomes driven to confront, understand and force out the kind of wickedness that they have learned is immensely destructive to society and individuals. I can relate to this longing.
As for corruption, I have already addressed that, but it’s true that those in authority can also be tempted by opportunities to take goods, power or action that are not theirs to take. That, too, is Satan-like behavior, and will eventually be strictly judged in God’s court. This aspect is explored a little.
What about the villains? While Ray is murderous and unstable, a rogue former military man, Michael is portrayed as a confused, trapped and regretful soul who simply got dragged into the wrong stuff when “he could have become anything.” Such is the tragedy… yet that is no excuse for endangering and ending lives. Sadly, though, the undue emphasis on each crook or corrupt cop’s motives suggests that gross misbehaviors are merely an unavoidable response to the hardships that have befallen them. This is not the biblical view.
Frankly, I recommend that all potential viewers stay home, rather than choosing this movie. It has little to offer the discerning viewer. Although the whole backstory suggests that André is nobly seeking truth and justice, trying to save and turn around cop-killers, overall the screenplay grants little time to his character and grants such a hefty portion of time to the views of evil people, that one can only conclude that this is where the filmmakers’ true interest lies. Combine this with strong and bloody violence, very heavy use of expletives, and it’s really rather disappointing. “21 Bridges” comes off feeling like a trigger-heavy episode of a seedy cop show, which thinks it’s an epic masterpiece but is not.
Are you reading this because there’s something about the film that addresses a need in you? Though we as sinners may be keenly aware of our fallenness, our entanglement in Satan’s traps and the consequences of our pasts, there is a way out—and it’s not a blaze of gunfire or taking our own life. How much better to trust in the One who listens, cares and pauses before sentencing us. How much better to submit ourselves to the One who “seeth all” and who rules over all authorities and will judge them, who upholds the value of our lives, though it cost Him his own to save us. Though we, as weary travellers in this earthly life, long for heroes, true justice and freedom from bloody crimes and corruption, there is only one way… Jesus Christ.
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.’” —John 14:6
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.