Taylor Kitsch has made a career of playing characters whose backs are against the wall. Ever since his star-turning role as the fiery eyed Tim Riggins on NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” Kitsch has embraced complexity in his projects rather than typical blockbuster flare. He’s a searcher, and that aspect of his process can be seen in his recent role as Detective Paul Woodrough in the second season of “True Detective” and, more recently, his nuanced portrayal of cult-leader David Koresh in the mini-series, “Waco.” He continues this path in the new action film “21 Bridges” starring alongside Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons and Stephan James.
The new film, directed by Brian Kirk, follows Kitsch’s character Ray and partner Michael, played by James, as they are hired by a prominent New York drug dealer to rob his competition in a late night heist. Unfortunately, the job goes horribly wrong and the two are forced to shoot to freedom as they are instantly greeted by an army of cops on the scene.
With blood on their hands, the two drive off furiously into the night to try and figure out what happened and make it through the night alive. Detective Andre Davis, played by Boseman, puts out an alert to close the city’s 21 bridges (hence the title) to trap these cop killers on the run with only a five-hour grace period from the mayor before commuters wake up. From there, we are off to the races and the film never lets up until its close.
The pace of the film recalls the kind of action film you would skip school to see with your friends. It’s pure rush without sacrificing brains or purpose. Kitsch agrees and was thrilled to be a part of this kind of film.
“I grew up on ‘Heat’ and, obviously later, when I started diving in and studying it was ‘Mean Streets’ and stuff like that,” says Kitsch. “New York is like a character in this one too. But I loved ‘Heat’ growing up and anything close to it. Those movies don’t get made anymore. It’s really rare so it was great to be a part of it in that sense.”
As we follow Ray and Michael, we begin to find their motivations. The two are veterans feeling forgotten away from the battlefield and struggling to put things right in ways they feel their government has not. These nuances (and a clever twist) are reasons Kitsch feels “21 Bridges” is a Trojan Horse of an action film.
“I think without that humanity it just goes into a cliche action movie. I think that’s what separates our film,” Kitsch says.
“I think when you come from nothing and you have an opportunity, that’s a once in a lifetime moment, and you have a chance to change the course of your life and your children’s lives to get out of the Bronx and everything that it represents to these two guys,” he adds. “To me, you can’t blame them.”
Kitsch’s portrayal of Ray cuts to the bone and in one scene, he places down a sobriety chip with a shaky hand as he has a chance to breathe in order to have a drink to calm his nerves. In that moment, you feel for Ray on a different level than you would have if he were just a one-dimensional thug. These are the types of layered characters Kitsch has been interested ever since researching David Koresh.
“The more layers to any character, you are going to gravitate towards [them],” says Kitsch. “Maybe it’s because I’ve always been an underdog. I don’t know. I love breaking that down and trying to find the whys and reasoning behind why someone would do something reprehensible as well. But it is subjective. Some people, if you completely erase, and this is quite close to impossible, your own judgement for a second and understand where this one person has come from in their struggles, this is what I love to do. Koresh taught me a lot about that in the prep for [‘Waco’]. Because I was bringing my own baggage in and casting judgement. Once I stopped doing that, it really set me free and I could marry myself emotionally to their stakes and not bringing my own to it. I think it’s the same with Ray.”