MOVIE REVIEW – In Paris, master pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden) finds himself suddenly in the middle a terrorist plot, when he unintentionally steals a bomb. CIA super-agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba) must shoot and punch his way to find out the truth. This action-thriller, – postponed after the Paris attacks – is a solid, commercially-minded release from British director James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman In Black).
Action flick Bastille Day with a tight budget clocks in at a tidy 92 minutes and doesn’t waste one. Compared with the wearing, seven-course dinner service we’re more and more being offered, it’s like grabbing a swift cheeseburger on the way home.
Bastille Day was opening in the UK on April 22 and set for French release on the eve of July 13. The movie is hindered by a lack of chemistry between its main characters – Elba and Richard Madden as an unlikely American pickpocket in Paris. Still, Elba is a physically imposing actor, and he lays about his work with a force that ultimately carries the film. (He even sings and co-composes Bastille Day’s theme song, along with Norman Cook -aka Fatboy Slim).
Solid, still, functional performances
Idris Elba’s no-nonsense performance as a CIA surveillance expert might be the film’s main commercial draw, but he’s as functional a component as anything else here and feels like a hero almost by default; he’s certainly not facing any stiff competition from the French police. The movie’s a Paris-set conspiracy thriller which Paris, presented as a steaming hotbed of institutional corruption and high-up-the-food-chain larceny, might well regret starring in.
Elba’s fanbase has been growing in a way which should make Bastille Day an urban commercial proposition. Richard Madden, too, has a Game of Thrones following, although he fails to connect with viewers or other cast members here. Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk), replacing Adèle Exarchopiulos as the girl caught in the conflict, is good in a frustratingly small part.
Far right movement, corruption, terrorism…
An after-hours bomb plot against a far-right political HQ kicks the story into gear. Reluctant mule Zoe (The Walk’s Charlotte Le Bon, best in show here) pulls out of detonating it when immigrant cleaners arrive at the wrong moment, and before she knows it, her overly chic tote bag containing an explosives-packed teddy bear has been swiped by a slick but unwitting street thief called Michael (former Game of Thrones star Richard Madden).
He’s only a few metres away from the ensuing public blast, which kills four, and has roughly the effect intended all along by the men who talked Zoe into this: not anti-fascist terror operatives, but rotten apples in the French police force, planning to capitalise on panic and unrest in the lead-up to Bastille Day.
British director James Watkins, known for more low-key work like Eden Lake and The Woman In Black, embraces noisy action genre tropes with lip-smacking enthusiasm, emphasizing pace and thrills over coherence or consistency. There’s set pieces here to rival the likes of Bourne or Bond (with a fraction of their budgets). A rooftop chase across Parisian tiles, in particular, is impressively staged and palm-sweating pacy.
Driving things forward with rumbling fury is Idris Elba’s gruff CIA hero, a reckless and insubordinate rogue agent – if only because the genre demands it. Many will thing that this is Elba’s Bond audition, and while that it’s somewhat logical, it Elba still makes a move towards Jason Statham territory. The Dris shares a lot of traits with The Stath: an eternal grimace; a brawny physique; a charmingly inept American accent… Forget Bond: we need to see Big Dris in a Crank-style action-a-palooza.
Time will tell…
How Bastille Day will play in a post-Bataclan Paris is a more dubious proposition, but the production should at least get full marks for an ambitious screenplay – which pays tribute to 2004’s gritty 36, Quai Des Orfevres – and committed execution.
It rarely makes sense – the script vastly overestimates the power of the hashtag as a weapon of mass destruction – but you’re never bored.