“The idea of locking down Manhattan for a manhunt was incredibly compelling and cinematic,” says Chadwick Boseman, who serves as a producer on the 21 Bridges and also portrays a detective who takes extreme measures to prevent the killers from escaping Manhattan, and directs the authorities to close all 21 bridges to prevent any entry or exit from the iconic island. “We haven’t seen that before.”
An intriguing mix of spectacle, propulsive and non-stop action, an epic “ticking clock” crime story, t he explosive story unfolds during a single night, after a drug heist gone horribly wrong results in the deaths of eight cops.
Says Boseman’s producing partner, Logan Coles: “I could see the trailer when I first read the script (crafted by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan) and thought what a cool concept for an action movie – Cops shutting down an island to catch criminals. It’s an edge of your seat ride.”
Beyond the action, the filmmakers were eager to explore the complexities of the cops and those they’re hunting. Notes director Brian Kirk: “I have an abiding fascination with manhunt movies and the moral journeys they present. This is thriller with the energy of a massive chase. There’s a conceptual purity, visceral realism and heightened scale and spectacle that comes with the idea of locking down Manhattan overnight. It’s almost like a military invasion. It has an archetypal clarity you associate with classic myths and with the tradition of New York crime movies. 21 Bridges is a modern story that exists within that tradition.”
Working closely with Boseman and Kirk were noted filmmakers Joe Russo and Anthony Russo, who were among the principal architects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having helmed the blockbusters Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. “Joe and Anthony godfathered me through the numerous challenges of making a film of this scale,” says Kirk. “They helped me create an environment where the best idea always wins. I drew inspiration from them throughout the film’s development, production and, especially, during post-production.
As Joe Russo points out, 21 Bridges fits very well in his and Anthony’s creative wheelhouse. “We grew up on genre films, especially elevated genre pictures with a particularly sophisticated execution of that type of material,” he explains. “Brian Kirk was someone at the top of our list of artists we wanted to work with. He understands the film’s themes and twists and turns, as well as the social potency of some of the issues it examines.”
Producer Gigi Pritzker added, “I was drawn to the film beginning with the terrific script. The idea of working with Joe and Anthony on this kind of a genre film directed by Brian Kirk made it even more compelling and exciting. The film is totally exhilarating and puts you in the center of a gripping crime drama that pulls you in and won’t let go. Chadwick gives an award-winning performance that will resonate with audiences as wewatch his character grapple with the complex choices he has to make.”
That social potency points to the film’s rich and layered social commentary, much of it focused on the sometimes-thin line that exists between cop and perpetrator, and all brought to life by characters with surprising nuances. Andre begins his unstoppable pursuit in full hunter mode, but as he draws closer to his prey and begins to understand the context of their actions, he undergoes a fascinating evolution.
Their collision course, says Anthony Russo, “reveals surprising layers as the narrative progresses, blurring the lines between protagonist and antagonist. We always look for ‘villains’ with strong emotional or empathetic points of view. There are many sides to a given story.”
“We wanted to bring significant moral and emotional substance to the film,” Kirk adds. “It’s more layered than a simple ‘good versus evil’ story. Andre ultimately wants to save his prey, Michael, played by Stephan James, and their respective journeys are toward connection and interdependence. That was a fascinating and incredibly strong core element to explore.”
Says co-producer Malcolm Gray: “We wanted the cops and bad guys to be equally compelling, to the point where you may actually be rooting for the two gunmen to escape, as much as you are for Andre to capture them. All the characters are flawed and human, and because of their circumstances, they are forced to examine their own morality.”
Boseman confirms that Andre is a complex figure. “He has prepared his entire life to be a cop,” the Black Panther star explains. “Andre’s father, a policeman, was killed in the line of duty when Andre was just 13, so he has grown up with this unsettled murder of his dad. Over the years, Andre has become determined to not only avenge his father’s death, but those of any cops he has served with.”
As Boseman indicates, the filmmakers were focused on fine-tuning the character of Davis and giving him as much texture as possible. “Chadwick wanted Davis to be a layered and unexpected hero,” says Kirk. “We, along with screenwriter Matt Carnahan, working off initial drafts from screenwriter Adam Mervis, wanted to bring out Andre’s honesty, bravery and intelligence. He’s a warrior with a purpose. Detective with a code, Chadwick brought everything to the table to realize the character’s potential.”
Anthony Russo adds, “Chadwick is an incredible artist who always brings that same level of execution to his work as a producer. He understands not only the intricacies of his character, but how to step back and look at the bigger picture.” Giving Davis some unexpected dimensions was critical. “We wanted to put some dirt under his fingernails and make him a little less refined and less of a simple heroic figure,” says Coles.
We love telling stories, surprising people, and giving them a fulfilling and multi-dimensional experience,” says Joe Russo.
“There’s a lot of intensity and action in 21 Bridges; if that’s what you want, it’s there and it’s a privilege to deliver it,” concludes Brian Kirk. “But I think moviegoers will also respond to the evolving relationship between the hunter, Andre, and his prey, Michael. This is a modern noir – a chase movie – that’s always about a relationship between two people who thought they had nothing in common, but actually, have everything in common.”