Synopsis – A young con artist and former CIA agent embark on an anti-terrorist mission in France.
My Take – Frankly, I would watch anything with Idris Elba in it, no matter how the film looks like! The suave Brit is one of the few actors I am hopelessly biased about. In recent times, Idris Elba has been in Marvel films like “Thor: The Dark World” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, followed by his brilliant performance in last years Netflix feature “Beasts of No Nation” which triggered controversy when he was not nominated for an Oscar. Just this year, he had been in two films, “Zootopia” and “The Jungle Book.” However in both films, we only hear his deep imposing voice. Thinking about it, their are not enough action films with Idris Elba in it! Even though he has done some under-served parts in lazy films such The Gunman. But there should be more. With this film we finally see Idris Elba as a modern day action hero, not far from the news that he is being touted to be the next James Bond. The constant debate around that has led to this film can being treated like it’s his audition for the role just because he waves a gun around and runs about for a bit. And if it were that easy, they would have cast just anyone. No, we need to treat this film on its own terms: as a slightly-better-than-generic action thriller with hilariously out-of-touch opinions about how social media works. Director James Watkins‘ third film after relative horror films such as Woman in Black and Eden Lake jumps genres and enters an altogether more bone-crunching gear for this contemporary tale of terrorist intrigue. Together with Kingsman and Kick-Ass Editor Jon Harris, they serve up set pieces in a bar and inside a truck at a thrilling pace, without you ever losing sight of what’s going on, while presenting a rooftop chase with a low-key vibe and immediate peril that’s missing from most blockbusters today. Unfortunately in the US, the film has been postponed indefinitely following last year’s Paris attacks, but it sees our man play a lone wolf CIA agent tasked with preventing a terrorist strike in France on their national holiday of Bastille Day.
The story follows CIA agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba), who is a part of a surveillance team stationed in Paris, in other words they are not allowed to intervene in the activities of the city. However when a light-fingered master of distraction and pickpocket, Michael (Richard Madden) – also American, mistakenly pilfers a bag containing a bomb destined to blow up the French Nationalist Party HQ but instead destroys a busy Place of innocent civilians, he becomes suspect number one. Seeking to clear his name and solve a conspiracy that, predictably, goes way up in the Parisian police authorities, he and Briar must work together to crack the case. The film gets off to a strong start, the plot is decent and though the two leads have questionable on-screen chemistry there are a few moments of gold that come out of their partnership. The plot itself is fairly simple, but the film is assembled in a way that makes everything look far more complicated than it actually is. Action mayhem breaks out at every turn, with impressively full-on stunt work, crashing chase scenes and lots of shootouts. It’s a shame the script wasn’t as clever as the plot which was, for some parts, unpredictable; even though far fetched. The plot twists from a terrorist crisis into an elaborate bank heist. It’s loaded with unbelievable, clichéd heroics, a French Revolution; hence the film’s title and some unnecessary violence that doesn’t make sense. Bent cop seeking redemption in the form of millions of dollars (not euros oddly enough) because of losing fellow comrades in action, yet, he’ll happily hang one of his own men. Despite the story line being a bit unremarkable there’s crunchy enjoyment in Watkins’ solid staging of the various set-pieces, from a sub-Bourne rooftop chase sequence to a genuinely impressive, face-obliterating fight inside the back of a moving van. Madden meanwhile is fun to watch, with obvious care taken to show him lifting wallets and purses. His light-fingered thieving and practically-clairvoyant ability to read a situation result in some slick sequences, even if it seems that everyone in France carries their valuables half-sticking out of their pockets at all times. Director James Watkins has the good sense to play to its strengths, for a time. Filmed across greater Paris in gritty locations like Gennevilliers and Barbés, it has the earthy visual palate of a Jason Bourne movie, and some of the stunt work to match. In the film’s best action sequence, Briar chases Mason across the rooftops of central Paris, sending loose tiles tumbling to the distant streets. Watkins just doesn’t have a great script to work with – screenwriter Andrew Baldwin throws in very thinly sketched xenophobic sentiment and a “Fuck the po-lice” anti-establishment riot whose basis is not explained at all – but the director shows real guile in choreographing high-speed chases and fight sequences that are done well. This film doesn’t have the budget of some other high profile action flicks and it shows – in a good way. Everything is just a bit grittier, a bit dirtier. And with such villainous baddies, the filmmakers believe they are justified in killing off dozens of faceless henchmen. One dares to show a glimmer of a conscience, but that doesn’t save him. The set-up is intriguing, the cinematography is excellent and though it is rather baffling that, despite casting two British stars, the two leads should be American, it’s undeniably absorbing. Sadly, as time goes on, the film gets more run-of-the-mill.
Gone are the spectacular early chase scenes and clever twists, but it’s still all in good fun. Elba has ample opportunity to flex his action hero muscles. Idris Elba is as imposing and impressive as his voice was. When asked why he ran away, Mason quipped, “Don’t you see how you look like?” Elba’s Briar was big, macho, tough and scary, anyone would have tried to run if he comes to get him. As an agent, Briar was an independent-minded and reckless rouge to the chagrin of his CIA bosses, but to the delight of the audience. Idris Elba is well suited to the role of tough guy action lead. With every snarl and gruff put down, the man many people wouldn’t mind seeing as James Bond completely owns the role of Briar, throwing himself into the various action set pieces with abandon. He is clearly having a great time in the role, and you’ll have a great time watching him, ramping the enjoyment factor of this low key action thriller by several notches. If this was a preview of how he would be as James Bond, it makes us all eager to see how Elba will transform the iconic role as his own. The team-up part is important, because this is a film that likes to think of itself as an odd-couple buddy action movie, with Elba‘s hardened brute strength contrasting with Madden‘s comedic fast-talking shtick with not-quite-hilarious results. On the most part, it works well, with some enjoyable interplay between the pair, but there just isn’t enough of it for us to really get to grips with what should be sparkling, quickfire chemistry. Instead, too much time is spent on set-up and on building a backdrop of political unrest. This should have been a movie that zips along with jokes and action at every turn, but instead gets bogged down in trying to deliver a muddled social message at the same time. While Madden doesn’t quite have the charm or charisma to go toe-to-toe with Elba, he does have a few excellent sequences. Known to many as the ill-fated Robb Stark on HBO‘s “Game of Thrones“. After he bid the TV series goodbye via a bloody Red Wedding, he went on to be Prince Charming in the live action version of “Cinderella.” Physically, Madden looked like a scared boy when placed side by side with the intimidating Idris Elba, which made him just right for the role of the unfortunate Mason, a guy who just so happened to steal the wrong bag. Richard Madden does his best to hold his own opposite him, succeeding at points, and the two prove to have a good chemistry as the classic action movie odd couple. It’s almost enough to see passed the fact that two English actors have been cast to play Americans. Charlotte Le Bon looking pretty as ever, resonates strongly as the wannabe bomber whose initial crisis of conscience gets the whole plot going. Kelly Reilly‘s character is woefully underwritten, her appearance frustratingly brief, and while French character actors like Thierry Godard and José Garcia perform competently in one-dimensional roles, they all fade forgettably into the background whenever Idris Elba is around. On the whole, ‘Bastille Day’ is a flawed yet engaging action flick that won’t quite have you on the edge of your seat but will pique your curiosity till the end. Not completely high octane but a decent thrill ride that should satisfy fans of the genre and entertain most cinema goers.
Directed – James Watkins
Rated – R
Run Time – 92 minutes