Seven years ago, coming off of five seasons of Friday Night Lights, Taylor Kitsch was poised to be the next “big” star in Hollywood. He was cast as the title character in a $250 million Disney film called John Carter followed just two months later as the lead in the $220 million Battleship. Both films tanked, and as quickly as Taylor Kitch’s career had risen, it had crashed with the same velocity. Oliver Stone’s Savages, released that same summer, put the nail in the coffin of Kitsch’s blockbuster career.
Kitch didn’t go away, mind you. He played a supporting role in Peter Berg’s last profitable film, Lone Survivor, and by virtue of Vince Vaughn’s presence, Kitsch managed not to be the most embarrassing thing about the second season of True Detective. Last year, Kitsch even played David Koresh in the Waco miniseries that no one watched.
I mention this only because Taylor Kitch is the most interesting thing about director Brian Kirk’s 21 Bridges. I don’t mean that Taylor Kitch’s performance is the most interesting thing about the film (it’s completely forgettable); I mean, his presence as the fifth lead with barely 25 words of dialogue in the entire film is what’s most interesting. It’s interesting because you don’t expect to see Taylor Kitsch as a glorified extra named Ray in a mediocre B-thriller, and it takes a few minutes to register that it’s him, not that he’s not recognizable. It’s just that, in a film like this where he’s not even the lead bad guy — he’s Bad Guy #2 — your first thought is, “Oh, hey! That guy looks like Taylor Kitsch.” It takes a few more scenes before you to realize, somewhat depressingly, that “Oh, shit. That is Taylor Kitsch.”
It’s all the more sad because you know exactly what is going to happen to his character the moment he is introduced as Bad Guy #2, who kills eight cops during a robbery gone awry. Bad Guy #1, played by Stephan James, is reluctant to kill cops and expresses a modicum of remorse, so we know from the beginning that he’s Bad Guy #1 because he has feelings, whereas Kitsch’s Bad Guy #2 is just a familiar face with machine gun, mowing down cops and barking commands like, “Get in the car!” or “Shoot that guy!”
The real shame of it is that Bad Guy #1 and #2 aren’t even the villains in the film, even though they are the cop killers that Chadwick Boseman’s Detective Andre Davis is tasked with hunting down. Davis, whose father died in the line of duty, has a reputation for shooting cop killers, but the thing about Davis is, he’s not corrupt. He’s Raylan Givens; all his shootings are justified.
The cops in the 85th precinct, who lost eight of their own, don’t know that, however, and they’re gung ho about ensuring that Davis kills the cop killers instead of arresting them, because the Chief (J.K. Simmons) doesn’t want to put the families through a trial. It’s evident early on, however, that there is more to it than that, and that the manhunt is just a plot contrivance 21 Bridges has to navigate before it can get to what’s really going on. Unfortunately, that means that even though Detective Davis shuts down all 21 bridges in Manhattan to prevent them from escaping, Bad Guy #1 and #2 aren’t even the point of 21 Bridges. Poor Taylor Kitsch is reduced to Human MacGuffin #2.
Sienna Miller is also in this as a narcotics detective operating as Davis’ partner. Miller is probably the best thing about 21 Bridges, which is not saying much, but she has quietly amassed an interesting career as a character actress, often in unrecognizable roles like this one or as Beth Ailes in Showtime’s The Loudest Voice. Her character is certainly more dynamic than the one played by Boseman, who is playing a role more suited to, say, late-career Bruce Willis than the guy who just came off of three of the most successful superhero films of all time. The real shame of Boseman’s career, so far, is that aside from the terrific Jackie Robinson film, 42, Boseman hasn’t found a compelling or successful role outside of the MCU. 21 Bridges is certainly not it — it is completely forgettable, a sort of paint-by-the-numbers cop thriller punctuated by gun violence that’s less gratuitous that it is aggressively loud, much like the rest of the film is aggressively bland.
Header Image Source: STX Films