21 Bridges

Posted on November 21, 2019 at 5:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and language throughout
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, guns, chases, many characters injured and killed, disturbing and graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2019
Date Released to DVD: February 17, 2020

Copyright 2019 STX Films
The Russo brothers who wrote and produced some of the most stylish and exciting of the Marvel movies, (“Captain America: Winter Soldier” and the last two Avengers movies) are the producers behind “21 Bridges,” a stylish and exciting cops vs bad guys story, starring the Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman. It’s what is sometimes called a tick-tock, a tense drama taking place all in one night, as a police detective with a reputation for perhaps being too trigger-happy is trying to find two men who killed eight policemen in the course of a drug heist. There is nothing new about the story, but it is capably told and the cast, especially Boseman and Stephan James (“Race,” “If Beale Street Could Talk”) make it more than watchable.

Andre (Boseman) is a police detective, the son of a cop who died in the line of duty. In a flashback we see him as a child, weeping at his father’s funeral as the clergyman quoting Romans 13:4: “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” In the present day, we meet him at the most recent in a series of meetings with Internal Affairs, an automatic inquiry after an officer discharges a weapon. He is not apologetic. “Justice comes at a cost…I am the sharp edge of that determination.” His reputation is for being trigger-happy, but he insists that each time he shot someone it was justified and that he never drew first. He is cool under pressure, certain of his choices. At home, we see him caring for his fragile mother, and he is patient and tender when she is forgetful. But she has certainty, too, telling him to “look the devil in the eye.”

And then a robbery goes terribly wrong. Two guys (Taylor Kitsch and James) put scary scarves over their faces and bust into a wine cellar where something even more powerful is stored. “Only two of you?” the guy they are holding at gunpoint asks. They were told to expect 30 kilos of cocaine, but it Is 300, uncut, worth much, much more than they expected. In a shoot-out, they kill a civilian and seven cops and critically injure an eighth before escaping with tote bags full of cocaine. And that makes them targets of some very highly motivated people on both sides of the law.

“I wouldn’t mind if you were back at IA tomorrow,” says the precinct captain (J.K. Simmons) whose cops were killed. He urges Dre to “protect” the families of those who died from the agony of trials and the risk that the men responsible would not be convicted. It is clear what he means. Dre’s reputation for being quick on the trigger and his understanding of what families go through when a police office is killed could make him more inclined to quick revenge than slow justice.

The FBI says they will take over in the morning if the two fugitives are not captured. With the 21 bridges to Manhattan and all of the tunnels closed, Dre chases after the men as they try to sell the cocaine and get out of town.

There is nothing special about the script but the action is exciting and there are a couple of strong dramatic confrontations. Boseman and James elevate the material to keep us interested even when the storyline fails to challenge us.

Parents should know that this is a cops-and-robbers-and-drug-dealers story with extended, intense, and graphic peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed and disturbing images. There are chases and shoot-outs and betrayals and very strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Dre and the person he talked to in the house come to different conclusions? How did Dre’s losing his father affect his outlook?

If you like this, try: “16 Blocks” and “Fort Apache the Bronx”

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Race

Posted on February 18, 2016 at 5:56 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language
Profanity: Racist and anti-Semitic language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: frank portrayal of racism and anti-Semitism in the 1930’s, including some scenes of violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 19, 2016
Date Released to DVD: May 30, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01BTDOSFY
Copyright 2016 Focus Features
Copyright 2016 Focus Features

When Adolf Hitler wanted to send the world his message of German/Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, African-American runner Jesse Owens won four gold medals. It was the first time that Olympic events were seen everywhere via the films made by Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, and what they saw was a black man from America who was the fastest runner in the world.

Owens, who had previously broken three world records at one sporting event, was one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. “Race” tells the story of his time at Ohio State, his relationship with his coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis, excellent in his first dramatic role), his relationship with Ruth (Shanice Banton), the mother of his child and later his wife, and his astonishing four gold medals in the Olympics, including one event where he was a last-minute substitute.

Owens is played by Stephan James (“Selma”) in a star-making performance. And director Stephen Hopkins and writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse do an exceptional job of putting Owens and the Olympics in the context of the era’s racial and geopolitical conflicts. This is a film that grapples thoughtfully and in a nuanced manner with morality and compromise in many different categories. Throughout, there are fascinating twists, as characters must evaluate complex ethical dilemmas or discover unexpected moments of grace and honor. When Owens arrives in Berlin, he asks to be directed to the dorm rooms for black athletes only to be told there aren’t any. For the first time in his life, he stays in an integrated dorm and it is in Nazi-era Berlin.

Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) must negotiate with the Germans to ensure that basis human rights will be respected at the Olympics; if not, he tells Joseph Goebbels(Barnaby Metschurat), the US team will not compete. The Nazis agree to his terms, but they are determined to tell their story their way and will use whatever threats or prizes they can to do so. Riefenstahl, an extraordinary filmmaker who was brought in by Hitler to document the supremacy of the Germans, understood what her job was but in her own way insisted on maintaining some integrity as an artist. And Owens himself faces a wrenching choice when the NAACP asks him not to go to the Games to protest Hitler’s abuses. What is the best way to send that message, to stay home, or to force Hitler to watch Owens prove wrong Hitler’s claims of Aryan superiority?

This is rich, complex, and compelling drama and a fitting tribute to a great athlete and a great American. Plus, it is entertaining and supremely satisfying to see him run — and win.

Parents should know that this movie includes a frank portrayal of racism and anti-Semitism in the 1930’s, including some scenes of violence and bigoted language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, and drinking and smoking.

Family discussion: What are the best reasons for Owens not to go to the Olympics? Do you agree with his decision? How were the conflicts faced by Owens and Riefenstahl similar?

If you like this try: Owens’ book, Jesse: The Man Who Outran Hitler, and the American Experience documentary about Owens

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Trailer: the Jesse Owens Story, “Race”

Posted on October 13, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, Shanice Banton, and William Hurt star in this film about Jesse Owens, who defied Hitler’s claims about Aryan supremacy to win four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Here is the real Owens. I was privileged to meet him when I was a teenager and will never forget it.

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