Spy movies have it tough following the solid work of the Bourne trilogy. It basically ruined the whole “American dude punching European dudes” genre of films, because all three films were so excellent. It attracts a number of similar sounding films, like The November Man or Three Days to Kill, which are both kind of lame for their own reasons. But every now and again there’s a Safe House(alright, that was Cape Town, but that American dude punching natives in other countries is actually quite a broad genre, would you believe), and now, Bastille Day.
Bastille Day casts Richard Madden as an American loose unit in France, a master pickpocket who happens to snatch a bag with a bomb in it. Wrongly accused for the ensuing explosion, the CIA operations in France send their own American loose unit to bring him in, before all possible hell breaks loose on the national holiday Bastille Day.
The plot is pretty standard fare for your espionage thriller film. The setting in Paris is pretty cool, even if it is underused. But the correlating theme to Bastille Day plays out quite well, and it doesn’t rub it in your face the whole time either. You can sort of guess where it’s going at certain points, but it’s not blisteringly obvious throughout the whole movie. There are some elements that seem pretty timely like police brutality and all that hate for the wanker bankers making millions, but they’re sort of underplayed. Instead of being used as thematic metaphors the film just leaves them as little footnotes throughout. They really don’t waste any time trying to tell you something, it all moves along quite rapidly.
The action in the movie is a serious cut above the rest, and the closest in a film to come to the quality of Jason Bourne. Idris Elba cuts through dudes, and the punches and baton whacks feel super solid. In fact, if they stretched the 92 minutes out, and threw some more action(with reasonable reason and logic in the story, obviously) Bastille Day could’ve been a film to truly rival the Bourne trilogy. The action in this movie is so good, and the main character is just as good too.
The one thing that plummets these types of films into benign mediocrity is their benign and mediocre main characters. Idris Elba is given the outline of your typical, sick-of-the-bullshit, solve-my-problems-by-inflicting-violence sort of dude, but he doesn’t play it to that tempo. You never learn much about him, but he exudes enough to make his character run deeper. Richard Madden plays the buddy Elba doesn’t want, and does it fairly well, considering the writing doesn’t give him much. His solo moments are pretty cool, but when he's next to Elba he's very obviously dwarfed. But regardless his role is a good break away from Game of Thrones, showing off a pretty decent range.
The French cast are quite decent as well. The only one I truly recognised was Eriq Ebouaney, but there were pretty solid performances from José Garcia and Thierry Godard as well. The film jumps between Elba’s antics and the French cast all doing their thing as well, so you never get stuck for too long anywhere, but it also helps avoid just making all of your French characters caricatures for the Americans to chew through. Everyone is really balanced and equally displayed, even if they all live in the suave shadow that Idris Elba casts down on them.
Wrapping it up...
Bastille Day isn’t the best spy thriller to come out, but I think it will probably be shamefully underrated and underseen. It’s a good film made great by a fantastic performance from Idris Elba. He’s such a cool dude, he even sings the song over the credits. And he’s damn good at that too. There is truly no reason why he can’t be the next Bond, because he could do the song, the film and probably everything else too.
But until then, Bastille Day is a gem.
Bastille Day - 8/10