Director: James Watkins
Starring: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Kelly Reilly, Charlotte Le Bon, José Garcia, Eriq Ebouaney, Anatol Yusef, Jorge Leon Martinez
Written by: Andrew Baldwin
Running Time: 92 mins
Release date: 22nd April 2016
To say that Bastille Day, an action thriller set in Paris is a curiosity is a bit of an understatement. A French/American production riddled with Brits all playing Americans who, for some reason, have all gathered in the French capital to cause chaos without anyone really raising an eyebrow, with a storyline lifted from 48 Hrs which manages, only just, to stay afloat, thanks to the screen charisma of its lead.
Michael Mason is a pickpocket in Paris, who decides to lift a bag belonging to Zoe Naville. Taking the phone inside and dumping the rest of the contents, he doesn’t realise that it contained a bomb that goes off. Immediately the prime suspect, CIA operative Sean Briar is sent to track him down. It soon becomes apparent that Mason was a victim of circumstance and that someone is out to cause chaos during Bastille Day. Briar gets Mason to become his partner in order to stop them.
Director James Watkins, whose previous films behind the camera include The Woman In Black and Eden Lake, both horrors, does show a deft hand at directing action. With sharp choreography and quick fire editing, these sequences are well executed. Unfortunately, everything else around them is a muddled, often non-sensical mess, with more holes in the plot than a large ball of Edam and just as cheesy.
Not a cliche has been ignored. We get chases across roofs, car chases, fights in moving vehicles. It’s as if Watkins and writer Andrew Baldwin have picked up the “How to make an action film” book and are following its word for word. It also takes the now well-worn plot of tough, lone wolf cop teaming up with a con artist and having just a few hours to work together and get on, most famously used in Walter Hill’s 1983 thriller 48 Hrs.
The film zips along at a tremendous pace, hopefully so no one will question the obvious twists or glaring contrivances. There is the occasional pithy comment but this is one part of the action genre playlist that Baldwin seems to lack in. A few more choice one-liners wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Thankfully the French cast all speak their native tongue and so the film is half is made up with subtitles (if you are not fans of reading your films, this might not be for you). Yet it’s the casting of the all-English cast and getting them to play American that seems most confusing. Not that they don’t do a good job, it just seems unnecessary. Kelly Reilly seems wasted as a CIA chief who looks like they decided to model her character on Gillian Anderson’s Scully from the X-Files, even down to the same coloured suits. Richard Madden, who made a big impression in Cinderella, here plays Mason, the pickpocket caught up in the terrorist plans. The film’s most interesting sections are when Madden is doing his thieving and would have been more interesting if we saw more. Otherwise, he is a perfectly fine side-kick.
It is Idris Elba who carries the whole nonsense. He has such an enigmatic and immense screen presence that you wonder why he chose this mess to make his mark as a leading film actor. Coming on like Luther with an American accent, he punches, runs and generally bullies everyone who crosses his path and you genuinely believe that he would. Those who think he would make a good Bond would be right, except it would be great to see him make his own mark on the cinematic world by introducing a character that could really stretch his obvious acting talents. In the meantime, if you want to see Elba beating people up al la Liam Neeson style, then this is right up your alley.
Bastille Day isn’t a masterpiece. It isn’t a complete turkey. It’s just generally ordinary. If you want a film that just washes over you and you want a touch of running, shooting and punching, then this ticks all those boxes. Just don’t expect to remember too much about it a week later. A general plea though someone gives Idris Elba a decent action hero part. He could quite easily be our version of Clint Eastwood. Now there’s high praise.