21 BRIDGES presents an intriguing mix of spectacle, propulsive and non-stop
epic "ticking clock" crime story. The explosive story unfolds during a single
night, after a drug heist
gone horribly wrong results in the deaths of eight cops. Det. Andre Davis
devises the desperate
but ingenious plan to close down Manhattan, to enable him and his team to entrap
perpetrators, who'll have no place to flee in the sealed-off island.
"The idea of locking down Manhattan for a manhunt was incredibly compelling
cinematic," says Chadwick Boseman, who portrays Davis and also serves as a
producer on the
film. "We haven't seen that before."
Adds Boseman's producing partner, Logan Coles: "I could see the trailer when
I first read
the script 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
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
Russo, who were among the principal architects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,
the blockbusters Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil
Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. "Joe and Anthony godfathered me through the
challenges of making a film of this scale," says Kirk. "They helped me create an
where the best idea always wins. I drew inspiration from them throughout the
production and, especially, during post-production.
As Joe Russo points out, 21 BRIDGES fits very well in his and Anthony's
wheelhouse. "We grew up on genre films, especially elevated genre pictures with
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
performance that will resonate with audiences as we watch 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
he undergoes a fascinating evolution.
Their collision course, says Anthony Russo, "reveals surprising layers as the
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
"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
interdependence. That was a fascinating and incredibly strong core element to
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
much as you are for Andre to capture them. All the characters are flawed 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
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
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
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
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.
ON THE RUN
Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James portray, respectively, Ray and Michael, close
and small-time thieves whose latest heist triggers a massive manhunt after they
stumble upon an
enormous cache of cocaine - and then kill several cops during their escape.
Ray and Michael's fates were sealed the moment they took off with the huge
Says Boseman, "If you rob somebody of 50 kilos of cocaine, you're going to end
up dead. But
Ray insists on seeing it as an opportunity - a life-changing moment. So, he and
Michael go down
that road and it ends up blowing up in their faces because the cops' sudden
arrival on the scene.
It becomes a fight-or-flight situation where Michael and Ray end up killing the
Ray is an old school military guy from the roughest part of the Bronx -
having fought and
survived, as one character says, "World War Crack." Ray lost his best friend -
- in combat overseas.
Moreover, Ray is a live-wire and perhaps even psychotic, but Kitsch finds the
heart. "There's a level of authenticity in his performance that we would not get
from most. Taylor
also knows how to play a soldier, having trained with Navy SEALs for his roles
in Lone Survivor
and Savages," notes Larocca.
Joe Russo says that he and his brother have been fans of Kitsch since his
work on the
landmark series Friday Night Lights. "Taylor always has a great screen presence,
and in this film,
he brings a complex figure to life."
Says Kitsch, "Taking a role always boils down to breathing life into it, and
I loved playing
Ray. Michael is the only thing that Ray has left, so he gets involved in this
score to give him and
Michael a better life. Ray does everything he can to protect Michael during the
chaos of the
manhunt. The characters in this film don't have much time to look past whatever
moment they are
in, and I think that's really compelling."
Kitsch affirms that the film is "relentless with a lot of twists and turns,
but at the same time
we get to explore, in depth, its characters and what drives them. The action is
which you don't see that much in movies today. Everyone is grounded in their own
Michael's friendship with Ray, and most of his decisions, stem from him
joining the military
to follow in his brother's footsteps, only to see him killed in the line of
duty. Says Stephan James:
"Michael then found himself in a situation where he needed to make money. Using
training, he found a new line of work: stealing drugs. Michael sees Ray as an
extension of his
older brother, and they have known each other for practically their whole lives
and have found
comfort and trust in each other."
Though the bonds between the two men are inextricable, James notes that,
Ray are two totally different people. Michael's a lot smarter and more
practical, whereas Ray is
just ready for anything, all of the time. But in the end, they're both just
running for their lives."
Michael's ties to Ray make him an inevitable if not an unwilling partner in
the heist and
subsequent killings and manhunt. "In the opening scene of the robbery, we wanted
understand that Michael fully comprehends the dire situation he's been put in,"
says Kirk. "We
experience his innate intelligence and tragic circumstances. You understand that
he's not the man
events present him as. He's come under the protection of his brother's best
friend, Ray, and now
finds himself in the most dangerous place someone can be."
Kirk further notes that casting the role was one of the biggest challenges he
always want to be as bold as possible with the storytelling, which meant that
finding the right actor
was incredibly important. We needed a young movie star and a great young actor,
and we found
that in Stephan. He's an empathetic actor, and we needed the audience to feel a
Michael, despite the deaths he and Ray cause with their robbery."
Anthony Russo adds, "Stephan brings so much emotion and depth to Michael. We
this film will catapult him to the next level of superstardom."
It was equally important - and challenging - to sell the growing relationship
and codependency between Andre and Michael, when the cop realizes, as he closes
in on his target,
that truth and justice demand that he keeps Michael alive. "That's really the
core relationship in
our film," says Kirk. "The two characters begin their journeys as polar
opposites, but they end up
as two sides of the same coin."
Andre finds himself in kind of arranged marriage when he's saddled with a new
drug enforcement task force narcotics detective Frankie Burns, portrayed by
Sienna Miller. "Davis
is a homicide cop and Frankie works narcotics, so they are challenged to find
their place together,"
says Miller. "But it's been forced upon them because the crimes involve drugs
Working together requires a leap of faith from both of them, but it happens
because they're great
at what they do."
Miller adds that the script and character of Frankie were unlike anything she
before. "Frankie Burns is a cop and single mom. She's a narcotics cop, so her
hours are really
erratic, and she is under immense pressure and doesn't have a lot of options.
So, her moral fabric
reflects that. The idea of putting myself into something completely new and
executed by such
talented and committed artists was a real draw for me."
Says Kirk, "I've been a fan of Sienna's work on films such as Foxcatcher,
and American Woman for many years. Plus, she's phenomenally athletic and really
pulled off all
the character's big action beats."
"It wasn't easy finding someone who's both believable as a mother and as a
narcotics officer," adds Gray. "We were incredibly lucky to get Sienna."
"It's a complex character that Sienna embodies so fully," continues Coles.
"She has this
warm motherly feeling, but then you see her with a gun in her hand and kicking
butt; it's really
Andre and Frankie report to Captain McKenna, a patriarchal figure who loves
being a cop
and is dedicated to taking care of his team. McKenna's mix of warmth and
patriarchal ferocity are
compelling traits, and Kirk was determined to further elevate the character
through the casting of
Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons, whom Kirk describes as a "Rolls Royce as an
Simmons, who in addition to his award-winning performance as a sadistic music
in Whiplash has earned kudos for his work in everything from broad comedies to
blockbuster event pictures, says he was drawn to the fact that "Behind all of
there's something more complex. I've always been attracted to stories that are
not black and
white. There is a complexity in all of the characters in this film. Nobody's a
saint and nobody's a
devil. We delve into their darker side - even those who are heroic."
Also starring is Keith David as Deputy Chief Spencer, a longtime friend and
Andre. Spencer had worked with Andre's father, who was killed in the line of
duty when Andre
was a child. Says David, "Spencer has a special bond with Andre, because he's
known him since
Andre was a kid and together, they mourned the death of his father."
The supporting cast includes Morocco Omari, as Deputy Mayor Mott, who has a
kind of history with Andre, with whom he's clashed more than once. Nevertheless,
it is Mott who
approves Andre's bold plan for closing the island. Alexander Siddig plays Adi, a
to whom Michael and Ray turn after cashing in their massive score. Adi's a Wall
but at night he launders drug money for the cartel. Louis Cancelmi portrays
Bush, a drug dealer
whose lie to Michael and Ray sets the robbery and chase in motion.
LOCK IT DOWN
21 BRIDGES is set during one explosive night in the world's busiest and most
area, Manhattan. While much of the film was captured on the streets of nearby
Boseman insists it's a New York film through and through. "It's authentically
New York, from the
dialogue to its rhythm and pace," he explains. "I lived in New York City for
years, and this feels
true to that NYC experience."
The filmmakers were equally intent on locking down an authenticity in their
police tactics, arms, and inter-personal dealings. To that end, they brought
aboard retired NYPD
officers Jim Bodnar and David Adams, as technical consultants. The two, who
together have more
than 30 years of experience in homicide investigations and emergency services,
were on the set
daily to advise and consult on all things NYPD blue. Says producer Mike Larocca:
closely with the NYPD and were lucky to have Jim and Dave with us. They
consulted on a variety
of things - from dialogue to where a finger goes on a trigger guard, and how
someone would walk
through a door at a crime scene. We wanted a high degree of authenticity that
something really exciting, with a ticking clock at its core."
No one knows better than Bodnar and Adams that locking down a teeming
a monumental task - the ultimate example of that ticking clock. As the film
presents this extreme
scenario, the police would have to apprehend the killers by 5:00 a.m., by which
would begin live-tweeting the all-encompassing manhunt; by 6 a.m. the morning
news would be
breaking the story; and by 7:00 a.m. the operation will have gone global.
During pre-production, Bodnar and Adams trained the actors on how to look and
a cop, or a perp. The actors would shoot up to 500 rounds in a training day to
ensure they'd be
able to move as a team and convincingly load, unload, cover, and fire.
Says Boseman, "Jim and Dave were on set to consult on anything to do with the
and always ask, is this real or not? Is this how this would actually go or not?
If Andre is chasing
somebody, would he have his gun out? Would he point his gun in this situation?
Andre show his badge in a public place if he's chasing somebody?"
Some answers came during Boseman's ride-alongs with active-duty NYPD night
officers. He, along with Miller, Kitsch and James, experienced homicide
the eyes of a police officer.
Kitsch and James, who portray former military men, trained with Brooklyn SWAT
their tactical skills. Says Kitsch, "I literally grew up in the bottom of a
mountain playing cowboys
and Indians, and I've been fortunate enough to be trained by Navy SEALs for some
I've played previously, and I'm very comfortable with the military side of
James adds, "I was constantly picking the brains of our NYPD and SWAT
set about how things worked for police officers, not just physically, but
emotionally, as well."
Production designer Greg Berry designed the film's raw and authentic look, which
describes as having "night as the baseline." Working closely with the director
of photography Paul
Cameron, Berry gave the film the feel of the "underbelly of New York City, the
back rooms of
Brooklyn, and other places where Michael and Ray are slipping through and trying
One of the production's biggest scenes is set in the fictional restaurant
Michael and Ray take off with several times the amount of cocaine they had
expected to steal,
followed by a shootout leaving several dead cops. The scene was captured at
celebrity chef Jose
Garces' restaurant, Tinto. Hundreds of bullet casings and more than a few
"bodies," as well as
crime scene personnel and patrol cars, helped set the tone for the breathless
scene that hurls the
Berry created a Brooklyn intersection in the middle of Philadelphia that was
so detailed it
had locals turning their heads for a second look. New York City-style fire
hydrants and trash cans
were situated there, and local businesses were camouflaged to look like they
and under construction, through the movie magic of scaffolding and graffiti
Other set design highlights included the creation of a NYC Chinatown alleyway
with neon signs, trash dumpsters, barbed wire, and graffiti, and a meat locker
at Kissin Meats in
Though most of the filming took place in Philadelphia, which doubled for New
the cast and crew did travel to The Big Apple for several days of filming that
included locations at
Grand Central Station, Chinatown, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Meatpacking
District, First and
Third Avenue, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and in the streets by Silver
Cup Studios in
New York-based costume designer David Robinson sourced NYPD-issued uniforms
patches. "We wanted the outfits to feel real, and we also consulted with our
technical advisors on
the wardrobe, including how to wear the gun belt or how long a pants hem should
be. It's the 'little'
things that make it feel authentic," he explains.
When Sienna Miller had her initial costume fitting, Robinson told the actress
she would be
wearing low-profile garb appropriate for a narcotics detective. "I explained,
'There is no glam here.
It's mom jeans and t-shirts.' Sienna embraced it all immediately."
The confrontation between Andre and Michael at the culmination of the manhunt
Robinson with a chance to further define the two characters. "Andre and Michael
are, in a way, a
mirror of each other, and for this scene, we dressed them similarly. Both men
are intelligent and
crafty, but they're from different backgrounds - one raised in a police
household, and the other
brought up in a world of crime. Their run-in is a powerful and poignant moment."
Stunt coordinator Andy Gill, 2nd unit director Spiro Razatos and special
Patrick White worked closely with Kirk to give the action and spectacle maximum
addition, the filmmakers employed some state of the art tools, including the
Warp Cam, a rigged
camera on a gyro stabilizer inside a box and held on a long stick; the Edge, a
camera attached to
a rotating platform mounted to the roof of a car; the homemade Bubble Cam, which
by rubber flotation buoys so a moving vehicle can crash into the rig without
breaking the camera;
and a set of drones unleashed above the streets of Philadelphia.
On the set of money launderer Adi's luxury apartment, where an apocalyptic
waged on both sides of a door, Squares and his team had hundreds of bullet hits
rigged in every
door and every computer screen within the line of fire. "I've never seen that in
a movie," he says.
"We went through 300 squibs over three nights and destroyed everything in sight.
It was so much
fun and looks super cool."
This kind of explosive action is intrinsic to the film's spectacle and
thrills, but its makers
emphasize that they hope audiences will be equally drawn to its richly detailed
their unexpected alliances, betrayals and dynamics.
"We love telling stories, surprising people, and giving them a fulfilling and
multidimensional 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
nothing in common, but actually, have everything in common."
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