How 21 Bridges Was Influenced By The Troubles In Northern Ireland

21 Bridges Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller run past a cop car

In the new thriller 21 Bridges, audiences have the opportunity to see a different version of New York than what we normally see on the big screen – namely a version where the entire island of Manhattan is on lockdown during a manhunt. The film takes place over a night where all transportation in and out of the city is shutdown, and the city basically becomes a police state during the search for a pair of cop-killing criminals.

Finding a way to properly show New York in this particular state was one of the big challenges facing director Brian Kirk in the making of the movie, but part of what helped him bring the story to life was some of his personal experience being born and raised in Northern Ireland. Growing up in the country in the second half of the 20th century, he personally lived through the notorious conflict known as The Troubles, and his memories of that time was reference for him in the making of 21 Bridges.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Kirk earlier this month during the Los Angeles press day for the new film, and it was following a discussion of classic crime thrillers like Heat and The Fugitive that the subject was raised. I asked the filmmaker if there were particular movies that he went back to during the making of 21 Bridges, and it was through that discussion that he brought up his time as a child in Northern Ireland.

The fabric of the movie came as much from [cinematic references as] the experience of being in New York at night, frankly, and trying to give the audience the taste of corruption that sort of permeates the world. But also, actually weirdly, I'd say like growing up as a kid in Northern Ireland at a time when it was quite a militarized society and there were a lot of police and army on the streets and choppers in the air, and part of it was about trying to bring that experience or communicate that experience to people who had not had it.

Also known as the Northern Ireland conflict, The Troubles was a period of strife that lasted from the late 1960s until 1998, and centered around the country's position within the United Kingdom. It was a historical event that saw multiple standoffs between citizens and the police, and was ultimately an incredibly violent affair that saw the deaths over more than 3,500 people as a result of paramilitary operations and terrorist attacks.

Obviously the source of the conflict at the center of the plot in 21 Bridges doesn’t exist quite on that scale, but Brian Kirk wanted to borrow from that atmosphere. Specifically, he wanted to suggest that New York is completely overflowing with police officers, meaning that the criminal characters played by Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James can’t turn a corner in the city without seeing a uniform or flashing lights. Kirk explained,

There were multiple opportunities. The whole concept of the lockdown being like a military invasion and the idea that every time you see a street there should be a cop car. Every time you look in the air there should be a police helicopter, and just that sense of this one night where the island is being squeezed and squeezed and squeezed so that there's no room left for these guys to exist.

You can watch Brian Kirk discuss his approach to building the atmosphere and tension of 21 Bridges by clicking play on the video below!

Starring Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller as the primary detectives leading the movie’s manhunt, 21 Bridges is arriving in theaters everywhere this Friday, and you’ll be able to see the overwhelming police presence up on the big screen. Between now and then, be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend, as we’ll have more from my interviews with the filmmakers and cast!

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.