There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about British actors playing Americans, since by now they’ve pretty much all done it. But it is a little weird when (a) every single one of a film’s American characters are played by Brits, and (b) none of them actually need to be American for the story to make sense. In fact, in Bastille Day, the fact that all but one of the Americans also work for the CIA only adds to the mystery, given the film is set entirely in Paris, has nothing to do with America and any other spy agency would have made as much sense, if not more.
Still, Americans they all play and – to be fair – they do a fine job playing them.
Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) plays Michael Mason, a gifted American pickpocket who steals and then discards a bag from an anarchist bomber’s naive girlfriend Zoe (the delightful Charlotte Le Bon), unaware that it contains a powerful explosive. When the bomb goes off killing several French citizens, Mason is presumed to be a terrorist, and – for no particular reason – the CIA decides they want to nab him before the French do. Sent in to retrieve him is the gruff, burly and comically maverick agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba), whose ‘to hell with protocol’ attitude is so inexplicably extreme it borders on parody. When Briar realises Mason is innocent, the pair teams up to track down the real bombers before they can carry out their final objective: setting Paris ablaze with race riots to provide cover for a daring robbery.
Filmed on what appears to be a shoestring budget, director James Watkins (also British) manages to keep the pace snappy and the action altogether interesting, enough to gloss over most of the threadbare plot. The film’s rooftop chase sequence would feel comfortably at home in any Bourne movie, while a close-quarters fist-fight inside a minivan provides Bastille Day’s most inventive and engaging scene. Everything has a real Luc Besson feel about it, but not always in the good way. Secondary characters are just caricatures, the violence is hyper-stylised and rarely believable, and what little dialogue there is tends towards corny cliches. Bastille Day also contains perhaps the greatest line of instantly-dated dioalogue ever recorded, with one of the villains saying (without a single shred of irony) “the hashtags will tip them over. Release the final hashtag.”
Much has been made recently of Elba’s potential selection as the next Bond, and this film certainly does nothing to harm his action man credentials. Elba is a giant, unstoppable juggernaut whose impressive physicality imposes itself in every scene. When asked early on why he ran from Briar, Mason’s reply of “because you were chasing me. Have you seen yourself!?” is as amusing as it is fair. Still, it seems a waste to squander all this acting talent on a film that asks so little of its players and gives so little in return.
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LESS meat than cheese, Bastille Day is a vehicle to show off Idris Elba’s action hero skills. And oh boy, does it succeed on that level. He menaces with a suave meanness, brutally kicks ass and takes no prisoners, but still charms. He commits to the action hero role with a screen presence that carries the film, even as the script goes down every clichéd path B-grade action movies have been following for years.
Elba is CIA agent Sean Briar, on the ground in Paris to check out suspected terrorist activity. He follows his gut when he tracks down a streetsmart American pickpocket implicated in a terror attack. Cue an excellent rooftop chase scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond or Bourne movie.
“You ran. Innocent people don’t run,” he says to Michael Mason (Madden) once he has caught his man. “Have you seen yourself… you’d run too,” comes the reply.
Madden’s slight figure proves an effective foil to Elba’s rugged, big, scary dude and their banter is light and funny. Briar is a lone wolf, but he can use this kid. Mason is in way over his head and reluctantly agrees to help Briar track down the real bad guys who, it turns out, have a link to the French Interior Ministry.
Reilly pops up as Briar’s boss, Karen Dacre, but doesn’t really do much other than flick her hair out of her face, while Eriq Ebouaney is criminally underused as a fence who manipulates the cops as well as the criminal element.
The Paris we see is not the City of Lights, instead it is the city that burns and while some interesting social comment is hinted at about how groups of people can be manipulated and the power of information, this is just noisy background that Elba either floats over or pummels through.
He drives his way through gritty Parisienne outskirts, avoiding bad guys, all the while drawing your eye away from the secondary actors who never get a chance to flesh out their characters.
The film set up takes much too long, but director James Watkins (The Woman in Black) keeps the action moving fast which means you are whizzing past plotholes and unlikely plot twists rather than just studiously ignoring them. In the end, the way the bad guys use social media inadvertently becomes the funniest part of the film and a lesson in what Twitter is not.
If you liked From Paris with Love, you will like this.
Featuring the badass that is Idris Elba, Bastille Day is about…well there’s a bomb and…lots of corrupt police officers and…a pickpocket? I’m usually good at following films, but this plot was just instantly forgettable! The script was awful and the film was just boring. Elba is great and needs to be in more action films, however Kelly Reilly (supremely underrated) is wasted in this film! This should’ve been so much better then what it was, the script was such a let down. Elba does however have one of his songs featured in the credits, evidently a talented guy.
Do filmmakers have no shame?
Bastille Day might be a step up from Gerard Butler’s jingoistic London Has Fallen, but that’s hardly a recommendation.
The campaign to anoint Idris Elba as Daniel Craig’s James Bond successor takes a serious blow with this pedestrian Parisian action movie in which Elba plays the “reckless, insubordinate and irresponsible” CIA agent Sean Briar who characteristically defies his superiors to track down the masterminds of a fatal bomb attack.
While director James Watkins rejects the xenophobic caricatures of his immediate predecessor — and that’s a definite plus — the film still exploits Europe’s very real terrorist threat as a convenient, dramatic backdrop for a muddled and hackneyed race-against-time movie.
Nobody is saying storytellers should avoid controversial or provocative subject matter.
But if they are going to venture into such raw and tender territory, it’s important to have something to say.
There isn’t an original idea in Watkins’s screenplay, although he does exhibit a serious knack for choreographing action (the film’s vertiginous rooftop chase sequence being perhaps the standout example).
Bastille Day’s absurd plot centres around American pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden) who is implicated in a large scale conspiracy when the bag he steals contains much more than a wallet.
As the intensity of a series of carefully orchestrated hashtag protests mounts in the lead-up to France’s July 14 celebrations, Briar teams up with Mason in a bid to track down the perpetrators before they can execute the final stage of their plan.
When Briar learns the terrorist bombing has been staged as a distraction for a very different kind of crime, it doesn’t help Bastille Day’s cause any. At that point, it simply becomes a matter of
art imitating art.