Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: James Watkins
Stars: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Kelly Reilly, Jose Garcia, Thierry Godard, Eriq Ebouaney,Vincent London.
Given recent terrorist attacks in Paris this action thriller cuts close to the bone.
Paris is a powder keg of political and racial tension in the lead up to the titular national holiday. Michael Mason (played by Richard Madden, from tv’s Game Of Thrones, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, etc) is a talented pickpocket eking out a living on the streets of Paris, relieving clueless tourists of valuable watches, passports and wallets. One day he takes a bag from an unhappy looking woman named Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon, from The Walk, etc), who is sitting on some steps. Inside the bag is a toy teddy bear and a mobile phone.
Unbeknownst to Mason inside the bear is a time bomb that was intended for the HQ of France’s right wing National Front. He keeps the phone and ditches the bag. Moments later it explodes, leaving several passersby dead or injured. Caught on CCTV, he inadvertently has become the prime suspect in a terrorist plot that seems to be intent on disrupting the city and culminating in some deadly attack on the national holiday on July 14.
On his trail is maverick, “reckless, insubordinate and irresponsible” CIA agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba, from Luther, the recent animated feature Zootopia, etc), a counter-terrorism expert who rarely play by the rules. Briar is charged with bringing Mason in for questioning and to learn more about the supposed terrorist plot. But soon Mason and Briar are forced to reluctantly team up to try and thwart a larger conspiracy orchestrated by some corrupt officers of France’s security forces who are using the cover of heightened terrorist threats as a cover for a more audacious crime.
Written by first time script writer Andrew Baldwin, Bastille Day is a cliched but fast paced action thriller that will appeal to fans of Taken and its ilk. This is the third feature from British director James Watkins and is something of a change of pace for him after a couple of acclaimed horror thrillers with The Woman In Black, Eden Lake, etc. He proves himself a capable director of action, as he delivers plenty of fast paced and well staged action sequences here, including a frantic roof top chase across the city, a car chase, a couple of bruising fights scenes and a climactic shootout that are as good as anything served up in the first couple of Bourne movies. Watkins’ direction is muscular, and he maintains a fast pace throughout that rarely gives the audience time to catch their breath or suspend their disbelief.
Long touted as a possible replacement for Daniel Craig when he hangs up his 007 mantle, Elba is well suited to the physical demands of his role here as the macho, unstoppable action hero, and he has an imposing presence. Madden brings a more human touch to his Mason, an innocent caught up in events beyond his normal experience. The dynamic between the pair is ripped straight from the playbook that guided such other odd couple cop pairings as 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run, etc. The supporting cast of Le Bon, Kelly Reilly, Jose Garcia as the villain of the piece, Thierry Godard and Vincent London are not particularly well served by the formulaic script and cliched, underwritten characterisations.
Watkins and his production team have made good use of Paris locations to add to the flavour of this thrill ride, and cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones (Snatch, The Woman In Black, etc) does a great job with the visuals. Jon Harris’s kinetic editing services the fast paced narrative. Bastille Day is a cliched and formulaic action thriller from the Luc Besson school of filmmaking, and we’ve seen many examples of this sort of thing before. But at least it is never boring. And it is certainly more enjoyable and credible than the recent London Has Fallen though.