Behind the basic plot of action movie 21 Bridges lie character complexities, moral compasses and a sense of duty to continue to push for diverse representation in film. On the surface, the film, directed by Brian Kirk and produced by Anthony and Joe Russo, follows NYPD detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) as he chases two men who killed eight cops in an attempted robbery across Manhattan. All 21 bridges, waterways, tunnels and train stations in and out of the city are closed for one night to keep them from escaping.
But the film goes beyond the chase. It’s the “journey toward humanity, toward a recognition of our interdependence, toward connection with other people and understanding that people who you think are polar opposites to you are actually mirror images of you,” Kirk told The Hollywood Reporter at the 21 Bridges world premiere on Tuesday in New York. “That, sort of emotionally and morally, was really why I made the movie.”
Executive producers Rachel Shane and Adrian Alperovich of MWM Studios agreed that the best aspects of making the film were using an action-packed storyline for something more, and working with a great collection of producers, filmmakers and talent.
“Exploring the complexities of the characters and the idea of a moral code was really important for us, and finding an entertaining way to do so,” Shane told THR.
Though the 21 Bridges release date was pushed back twice, the stars felt that was the best move because it allowed the anticipation to continue building. Since the events take place over the span of one, sleepless New York night, the cast and crew spent eight weeks on night shoots.
“If you’re doing night shoots for that long, you get a little crazy,” actor Taylor Kitsch told THR. “You lose your mind.” Kitsch plays Ray, one of the robbers Davis chases. He starred in some pretty heavy films before this one, he said, so it was nice to take a step back and play the flashy, tweaked-out, greedy character “that I kind of grew up watching.”
“Michael was sort of the moral compass of the film,” James told THR at the premiere. “For me, he was the gray area that allowed the audience to ask questions about themselves, about their own prejudices and the way they see life, the way they see things in general. It just felt meaningful.”
James added that he was grateful to be able to share the screen with incredible actors like Boseman, Miller and Kitsch.
Miller’s role as a detective and single mom has impacted her day-to-day life since the movie wrapped. “I feel like I have an insight into what it would be to work in the NYPD, and what these people risk, and the compromises,” she told THR. “I think now, every time I see a cop, ‘Who have they left at home to risk their lives to do their job?’ It’s pretty humbling.”
Agreeing to play Detective Davis was a bit of a process for Boseman, as it always is when he gets presented with a role. “My films pick me,” he told THR.
If he likes a script and sees possibilities in it, he’ll start to hear or dream certain things that push him toward that particular role, he said. If that happens, he decides to be in the film. “I have to follow that instinct, because it usually means it’s something that I’m supposed to learn from, something I’m supposed to bring into this world,” Boseman said.
He explained it was important for James’ Michael to be cast as a person of color, whose charisma and compassion allows the audience to feel for him, because the movie isn’t about good guys and bad guys. It’s about seeing both sides in a human way.
“We have to continue to push for our stories,” he said, “and push for our representation in certain places.”