Bastille Day

****

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Bastille Day
"Almost every action movie nowadays borrows from every other action movie and this one happens to be done incredibly well."

What do you mean: you wanted original? There's the opening scene – all two minutes of it – featuring a naked blonde walking down the steps of Paris Sacre Coeur, to the amazement of the crowd and the delicious disgust of a pair of passing nuns.

She is there to provide distraction as brazen pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden) works the crowd. Perhaps this is a subtle tipping of the hat to the fact that 14 July – the day celebrated in France as Bastille Day – is also, elsewhere, National Nude Day.

Copy picture

After all, it surely couldn't be that so prestigious a director as James Watkins thought: how do we rustle up a little easy notoriety for the film – and some bright spark came up with the idea of kicking off with more titillation than Bond ever dared.

Thereafter, though, the film plumbs every cliché in the buddy movie handbook. Sean Briar (Idris Elba) is the maverick CIA operative transferred to Paris after going off piste in Bagdhad. We first meet him being roasted by soulless by-the-book bureaucrat Tom Luddy (Anatol Yusuf) – and being given “one last chance”, just so long as he behaves himself, by station chief Karen Dacre (Kelly Reilly).

This resolve lasts about as long as it takes for Mason to steal the wrong bag from naïve political activist Zoe Naville (Charlotte Le Bon) and, abandoning it in the wrong place, wrong time, put himself in the frame as a heartless irresponsible terrorist. While French police flounder, Briar tracks Mason to his digs in approximately five minutes flat.

There follows rooftop pursuit (cf. Skyfall and Taken 2), car chases and plenty of bone-cracking violence, as Briar takes down anyone and everyone who gets in his way. After mutual sparring, Mason convinces Briar that he really isn't a terrorist, but actually a feckless amoral coward who also happens to be the world's greatest pickpocket.

The two set off together to track down Naville, as an increasingly alarmed Luddy squeaks into his radio that Briar is breaking the rules again. Briar hangs up – and the stage is set for a head to head with good guy turned bad, Victor Gamieux (José Garcia). Because yes (minor spoiler alert) the bad guys turn out to be good guys (a team of French uber-cops known as Response Rapide) gone rogue.

Those you expect to die do so – and pretty much in the order and manner you would expect: even the final showdown, between Briar, Mason and the real brains of the bad guy outfit is carbon copy of many a similar showdown.

So...

I hated it?

Absolutely not. Because let's face it: almost every action movie nowadays borrows from every other action movie and this one happens to be done incredibly well. There's drive, passion, wit – and a tightness to the direction and storytelling that puts many a similar movie to shame.

Idris Elba creates a new and sufficiently different hero that, should he want it, clearly lays the foundation for a sequel and an on-going franchise.

Though interestingly, oddly, this film, for me, laid to rest any claim Elba might have to the role of James Bond: for there is a lightness, almost balletic quality to the Bond role that doesn't quite fit with Elba's screen-dominating presence. That's not to diss Elba: not at all. Merely to observe that he has power and qualities that would be wasted, would not fit the dapper, sharp-suited Bond frame.

Richard Madden is an excellent foil to his brute, bear-like force: and the introduction of a third party – Charlotte Le Bon – to the usual dyad works better than well.

Meanwhile, would that other similar films boasted villains of the calibre of José Garcia!

Those of a nervous disposition may question the subject matter and timing. Is it brave or incredible bad taste to bring out a story that kicks off with a bomb atrocity in the heart of Paris so soon after the events of 2015? Or to preview it just one day after similar atrocities in Belgium? I confess to genuinely conflicting emotions about that.

But then, US directors have happily carried on blowing up large parts of US real estate for the sake of dramatic impact. In 2013, for instance, terrorists took down the White House, ultimate symbol of all that is American, not once, but twice (White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen); while terrorist mayhem was doubled up with the mass extermination of world leaders and blowing up of well-known UK landmarks in this year's London Has Fallen.

Bastille Day is not some crass imposition of US action movie transposed to the streets of Paris. Behind the film sits a number of production companies, led by Studiocanal, a major French-based production and distribution company. Several of the key roles have been handed out to French A-listers (as opposed to US actors stumbling through French lines with a dubious mock French accent).

Toward the end there is a climax that is quintessentially French, and absolutely right for a film that invokes the history of the Bastille: a storming of a major public monument by the people; a most un-American acknowledgment that when those in authority fall down on the job, it is time to take to the barricades.

Reviewed on: 18 Apr 2016
Share this with others on...
Bastille Day packshot
A CIA agent and a pickpocket attempt to uncover police corruption in Paris with the dubious help of an activist's ex girlfriend
Amazon link

Read more Bastille Day reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Festivals:


Search database: