Cast: Sienna Miller, Chadwick Boseman, J.K Simmons, Keith David, Taylor Kitsch, Stephan James
Director: Brian Kirk
Genre: Action, Crime
Running Time: 99 minutes
Synopsis: 21 Bridges follows NYPD detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) who leads a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers. Davis' relentless pursuit also uncovers a massive conspiracy, and lines become blurred on whom he is pursuing – and who is after him. When the search intensifies, extreme measures are taken to prevent the killers from escaping Manhattan, as Davis directs the authorities to close all 21 bridges to prevent any entry or exit from the iconic island.
Release Date: November 21st, 2019
On The Run
Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James portray, respectively, Ray and Michael, close friends 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 payload. 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 eight cops."
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 – Michael's brother – in combat overseas.
Moreover, Ray is a live-wire and perhaps even psychotic, but Kitsch finds the character's 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 character-driven, which you don't see that much in movies today. Everyone is grounded in their own decisions and motivations."
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 his military 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, "Michael and 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 audiences to 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 faced. "I 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 connection with Michael, despite the deaths he and Ray cause with their robbery."
Anthony Russo adds, "Stephan brings so much emotion and depth to Michael. We think 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 partner: 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 and murder. 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 had seen 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, American Sniper 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 street-tough 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 impressive."
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 actor."
Simmons, who in addition to his award-winning performance as a sadistic music teacher in Whiplash has earned kudos for his work in everything from broad comedies to dramas to blockbuster event pictures, says he was drawn to the fact that "Behind all of McKenna's warmth, 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 mentor to 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 different 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 money-launderer to whom Michael and Ray turn after cashing in their massive score. Adi's a Wall Street broker, 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 populated area, Manhattan. While much of the film was captured on the streets of nearby Philadelphia, 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 depiction of 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: "We worked 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 would create something really exciting, with a ticking clock at its core."
No one knows better than Bodnar and Adams that locking down a teeming metropolis is 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 time commuters 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 feel like 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 NYPD 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? When would 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 shift officers. He, along with Miller, Kitsch and James, experienced homicide investigations through the eyes of a police officer.
Kitsch and James, who portray former military men, trained with Brooklyn SWAT to hone 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 characters I've played previously, and I'm very comfortable with the military side of things."
James adds, "I was constantly picking the brains of our NYPD and SWAT consultants on 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 he 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 to survive."
One of the production's biggest scenes is set in the fictional restaurant Mosto's, where 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 story forward.
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 were abandoned and under construction, through the movie magic of scaffolding and graffiti walls.
Other set design highlights included the creation of a NYC Chinatown alleyway complete with neon signs, trash dumpsters, barbed wire, and graffiti, and a meat locker at Kissin Meats in Fishtown.
Though most of the filming took place in Philadelphia, which doubled for New York City, 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 Queens.
New York-based costume designer David Robinson sourced NYPD-issued uniforms and 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 provided 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 effects coordinator Patrick White worked closely with Kirk to give the action and spectacle maximum impact. In 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 is surrounded 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 gunfight is 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 characters and 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 they had nothing in common, but actually, have everything in common."
Release Date: November 21st, 2019