DIR: James Watkins • WRI: Andrew Baldwin • PRO: Bard Dorros, Fabrice Gianfermi, Steve Golin, Philippe Rousselet • DOP: Tim Maurice-Jones • ED: Jon Harris • DES: Paul Kirby • MUS: Alex Heffes • CAST: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Kelly Reilly
Bastille Day follows two protagonists whose worlds of thievery and espionage unintentionally collide. The first we are introduced to, anti-hero Michael Mason (Richard Madden – GOT, Cinderella), is a proficient pickpocket, as smooth at chatting up the ladies as he is at stealing their valuables (If Taken taught us anything, it’s don’t go to Europe – you’ll be taken. If Bastille Day teaches anything, it’s don’t go to Europe – your stuff will be taken). The character’s origins are a mystery to us, though we do learn that he doesn’t plan on going home, where he has been charged with several accounts of fraud, anytime soon. Michael’s activities soon catch up to him when he steals a bag, not realising there is a bomb in it, and disposes of it in the streets, soon after which, the bomb goes off.
Though he is innocent, and simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, Michael prepares to flee but not before he is chased and captured by Sean Briar (Idris Elba – Luther, Beasts of no Nation), a ‘reckless, irresponsible’ and insubordinate CIA agent who would be fired from his position only that he ‘gets the job done’. Sean believes that Michael didn’t plant the bomb, and when he loses the backing of the CIA in pursuit of the real criminal, he has only Michael to help him unlock the conspiracy.
The stakes are high because the bomb went off in the days leading up to the country’s major holiday, Bastille Day. This coupled by the fact that there are ongoing public protests across the country leads the CIA and French homeland security to believe that a terrorist attack in Paris could be forthcoming. The city is put on high alert but the state refuses to cancel the national holiday. Thus between the ‘unlikely, multiracial duo’ pairing and this subplot, Bastille Day reeks of American patriotism (in that the CIA must save the day) and Hollywood clichés. The head of homeland security (played by José Garcia) even compares France’s situation to the States: ‘The Americans wouldn’t cancel Independence Day, would they?’
Our leads deliver expectedly good performances from two fine actors who are quickly establishing themselves in the film industry as well in television drama. Richard Madden pulls off the charisma and smarts of his character Michael with ease, to which Elba offers his cool-as-cucumber counterpart. In fact, Elba is almost a little too cool as Agent Briar. At times, one feels like he isn’t really putting all he can into the role, and, given how high in demand the Golden Globe-winning actor is right now, one wouldn’t be surprised if the actor knows this is just an OK film, and is having fun doing it, but is also reminding himself of how it won’t be long until he gets back to gritty drama – the good stuff.
With its themes of espionage and terrorism, and plot-twisting betrayals and secret identities, this is a fairly by-the-numbers American action flick. The film even has an obligatory rooftop chase sequence, which provides one of its most thrilling sequences, some female nudity (a young naked French woman parades across the screen within the first couple of minutes) and a few standard plot holes, for example, when Michael accidentally drops his backpack on the roof, one questions why he didn’t just put the bag on his back?
In any case, if you’re looking for some quick, adrenaline-pumped entertainment – and clocking in at ninety minutes, it welcomingly abstains from a gratuitous running time – Bastille Day fits the bill.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Bastille Day is released 22nd April 2016