'21 Bridges' Ending Explained: What Happened at the End of the Movie?

After an hour or so of Andre Davis (played by Chadwick Boseman) chasing down cop killers Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch), the ending of new movie 21 Bridges takes the action outside of that long night in a closed-off Manhattan and also reveals the true events that have caused the whole night to happen.

At the beginning of the movie, audiences are left to believe that what they are seeing is a simple story of a cop doing what it takes to capture two criminals who botch a robbery, leaving eight police officers dead.

However, there were hints all along that something wider is going on. Why, for example, were there 300 kilograms of cocaine in the wine shop when there was meant to be 30, and why did the police without warning shot Adi (Alexander Siddig) through the keyhole of his base?

The answers to these questions are on the two flash drives that Adi gives Michael as he lays dying, which Michael then gives Andre as he too dies after being shot by Andre's partner for the night, Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller). This shooting was also suspicious⁠—why does Frankie shoot Michael when he was clearly surrendering to Andre?

At the time, it seemed like Frankie's decision was based on everyone being exhausted after pulling an all-nighter combined with her anger that Michael was responsible for the death of so many of her co-workers, but when Andre visits the home of Police Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) the next day, the truth reveals itself.

21 bridges ending explained
Chadwick Boseman in "21 Bridges" STX Entertainment

As Michael discovered when he looked at the flash drives in the hotel room, and Andre has clearly discovered before coming to McKenna's house, these drives contain the details of the officers of McKenna's precinct who have been running drugs and laundering the money through Adi.

It turns out that when Ray and Michael had entered the wine shop to steal the cocaine, they had inadvertently found themselves at the drop-off where the precinct would come pick up the drugs they were to sell, and that the whole manhunt was set up by McKenna not just to avenge his coworkers' deaths, but also to stop the conspiracy getting out.

After a confrontation with Andre, McKenna and more of his officers get killed, while Burns decides to give herself up in order to ensure her child does not grow up without a mother.

21 bridges end
Sienna Miller in "21 Bridges" STX Entertainment

This ending of 21 Bridges not only reveals the true conspiracy behind the whole film, but also changes our view of the first scene, when we see Andre quizzed by Internal Affairs after he has shot another police officer on duty.

This seems to set up that he is a violent cop that will make sure the two robbers die rather than getting caught, which is why McKenna chooses him to lead the manhunt. However, we also learn that his father died on duty, which has made Andre exactly the wrong person to investigate this case, as he will ensure every corrupt cop is brought to justice. It is implied that he has had to kill other cops not because he has a violent streak but because they all refused to surrender, just as McKenna does. In contrast, however, Burns does surrender and makes it out alive.

21 Bridges is in cinemas now