UK Release Date: 22nd April 2016
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: James Watkins
Writer: James Watkins, Andrew Baldwin
Starring: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Kelly Reilly, José Garcia, Charlotte Le Bon
Synopsis: A no-nonsense CIA agent with a knack for brutal interrogation is reluctantly forced by circumstances to join forces with a pickpocket and con man who might hold the key to a terrorist conspiracy that poses an imminent threat to the people of Paris.
If Alicia Vikander is staking her claim to be queen of the big screen by appearing in every single film, then her king must surely be Idris Elba. The British actor has been in three films in cinemas simultaneously – as a buffalo police chief in Zootropolis, vicious tiger Shere Khan in The Jungle Book and now as a hard as nails CIA agent in action thriller Bastille Day. This time around, the Big Driis is right in his wheelhouse with a role that basically amounts to punching a lot of people in the face. It’s less of an audition for James Bond than it is a showcase for his skills as a far edgier and more interesting spy.
American citizen Michael Mason (Richard Madden) works as a pickpocket on the streets of Paris. One night, he steals the bag of a distraught woman (Charlotte Le Bon) and discards it when he doesn’t find anything of worth. When the bomb that was concealed inside the bag goes off, Michael finds himself the subject of a terrorist manhunt. This puts him on a collision course with CIA agent Sean Briar (Elba), with the Americans keen to get to Michael before the French authorities do.
Bastille Day is an efficient, fun thriller that has an admirably basic approach to telling its nuts and bolts story. Director James Watkins, best known for horror one-two punch Eden Lake and The Woman in Black, helms the action with a Bourne-esque devotion to positioning the viewer right at the heart of every punch and kick. This gives the film a real kinetic feel and energy, particularly in the case of a genuinely gripping early foot chase across rickety French rooftops.
At the heart of it all is Elba, who clearly relishes the role the film gives him. This is a character who is more interested in cracking heads than cracking the case and Elba is a perfect fit. He plays the role with tongue lodged firmly in cheek and embraces the inherent ridiculousness of the film and its convoluted tale of terrorist plotting and corruption. Madden, meanwhile, brings a certain twinkly charisma to the type of character that completely eluded Will Smith in Focus. He’s not as good as he was in Game of Thrones, but this role is certainly better than his distinctly bland Prince Charming in the live action remake of Cinderella last year.
Unfortunately given its entertainment value, Bastille Day completely falls apart under any sort of narrative scrutiny. Its twisty-turny plotting is fun to a degree and Watkins is keen to keep the pacing quick enough that the audience doesn’t have any time to stop and think. This pays off in that it allows viewers to simply strap themselves in and enjoy the spectacle of some good actors taking part in bruising action.
Pop or Poop?
Bastille Day isn’t going to end up on anyone’s lists of the best films of 2016 and it’s entirely possible that no one will remember it in six months. It is, however, a fun ride of a film and one that could be a real calling card for James Watkins’ abilities outside of the horror genre.
It remains to be seen whether Idris Elba will ascend to the role of Bond, but it doesn’t look as if he’s going to shy away from the action that has made his name. This is another great showcase for one of modern cinema’s greatest tough men.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.