Should I Watch..? 'Bastille Day'
What's the big deal?
Bastille Day (known as The Take in the US) is an action thriller film released in 2016 and was directed by James Watkins. The film follows a cocky American pickpocket operating in Paris forced to team up with a jaded CIA agent to prevent a terrorist atrocity in the French capital. The film stars Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Kelly Reilly and José Garcia. The film was due to be released in 2015 but was delayed after the Paris terror attacks in November that year. It was then pulled from French cinemas altogether following the Nice terror attacks on Bastille Day in 2016, prompting the film-makers to remove images of Paris from the film's promotional material as well as the name change for the North American release of the film. With global earnings of just $14.8 million, the film was a box office bomb and critics gave the film a mixed response.
What's it about?
Cocky American pickpocket Michael Mason is eking out a living working in Paris, stealing countless phones, wallets and passports before selling them to his fence in the city, Baba. On the eve of national holiday Bastille Day, Michael steals a woman's bag containing goods that he's not especially interested in. Discarding the bag, Michael barely escapes when a bomb concealing inside a teddy bear in the bag detonates and kills four people. The woman, anti-fascist protester Zoe, had been coerced into placing the bomb at the deserted offices of the French Nationalist Party but changed her mind after realising that innocent people would be killed.
Monitoring events in Paris are the CIA along with recently demoted field agent Sean Briar, a man with a reputation for excessive use of force. Capturing Michael's image on CCTV and identifying him as the prime suspect, Briar immediately sets off to intercept and arrest Michael who is frantically trying to escape the city. Once Michael is in custody, it soon becomes apparent to Briar that his captive is little more than an unwitting piece in a much bigger puzzle. As public tension boils over into violence, can Michael and Briar find the bombers and stop them from continuing their reign of terror?
Charlotte Le Bon
Agent Karen Dacre
DGSI Director Victor Gamineux
Comm. Rafi Bertrand
Agent Tom Luddy
Andrew Baldwin & James Watkins
Release Date (UK)
22nd April, 2016
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
In some ways, I feel sorry for Idris Elba who has been overlooked for these type of roles for far too long. Bastille Day is a great reminder that he would have been a terrific and bold choice to play James Bond earlier in his career - he kicks all kinds of ass in this film, despite being saddled with a mostly unconvincing American accent. The film's pace is electric, rarely letting up throughout and delivering all of the fisticuffs and shootouts that action fans crave.
The other aspect of the film I liked was the intelligent screenplay, based on real-world events and worryingly plausible for the most part. The film isn't afraid to throw in some intriguing questions about the never-ending War On Terror, police brutality, Islamophobia, the role of social media and even American foreign policy via the shadowy goings-on of the CIA apparently operating in Paris under the noses of the authorities. A shame that much of this is ignored in favour of another car chase or stunt sequence but I felt that the film felt more grounded in reality than many other action films like this. Of course, it proved all too prophetic after the real-life terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice which would inevitably result in much-decreased box office takings. The film's odds of being a classic were slim to begin with and with this kind of luck, it was always facing an uphill battle.
- Madden was trained how to pick pockets by a consultant known as Keith The Thief, using sleigh-of-hand and distraction techniques so that you can see him clearly steal things in the movie.
- Canadian actress Le Bon replaced French actress Adèle Exarchopoulos after she dropped out to appear in The Last Face instead. Despite rumours, she is not related to the Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon.
- The roof that Elba and Madden run across at the beginning was actually shot on a fake roof on top of the BHV department store in Paris opposite Paris City Hall.
- The film was partially filmed in London in locations such as the Naval War College in Greenwich which doubled for the National Bank of France.
What's not to like?
It's not easy for an action film to stand out amongst the competition - as a genre, it's about as overcrowded as a Parisian subway carriage. Bastille Day makes token gestures - a leading man of colour, the Parisian backdrop - but in essence remains a fairly nondescript effort. None of the action scenes stood out as being exceptional or different while the script offers little in the way of plot twists. For a film painfully aware of current events, it's disappointing to find the script feeling so reminiscent of dozens of other action films. Even Paris has seen plenty of action films over the years from Matt Damon's blistering performance in The Bourne Identity to the over-the-top madness of GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra and Robert De Niro teaming up with Jean Reno in Ronin.
It's hard to take Elba seriously as a CIA agent with his American accent barely hiding his London one. But the rest of the cast don't really provide much in the way of support - Madden looks like he'd rather be back on the set of Game Of Thrones while Le Bon doesn't have much to do as Zoe. The French cast, led by Garcia and Godard, do better (and obviously speaking French makes the film even more plausible) but again, the script overserves them by not giving them enough to do. With a bit more thought and bravery, this might have been different enough to stand out thanks to Elba's fantastic no-nonsense action hero at the centre of things. But as it is, this feels like a wasted opportunity.
Should I watch it?
Obviously overtaken by real-life tragedy, it's still unlikely that Bastille Day would have been anything other than another forgettable action film with nothing to make it seem extraordinary. Elba's performance is a definite plus and a strong indicator that Elba could find himself in Liam Neeson's shoes in a few years time. But generally speaking, this is so middle-of-the-road that it may as well be wearing crash barriers.
Great For: French-speaking viewers, Idris Elba
Not So Great For: French police, French socialists, anyone looking for a decent action film
What else should I watch?
Few cities outside of America have seen as much cinematic violence and destruction as Paris as the list of films featuring the French capital is impressive. In addition to those mentioned above, the Eiffel Tower is blown to smithereens in Team America: World Police which is a very funny and crude political satire with puppets while the likes of From Paris With Love, Rush Hour 3 and Kiss Of The Dragon all feature their respective stars causing all sorts of mayhem in Paris. Film-makers are aware of other places in France, yes?
With Daniel Craig's tenure as 007 coming to an end after the next movie, bookies are already taking bets on who will replace him. The joint favourites are Tom Hardy (after appearing in films like The Dark Knight Rises and Legend) and James Norton, star of the recent TV series McMafia. Other candidates include Loki himself Tom Hiddlestone, Henry Cavill (who will surely be too busy playing the Man Of Steel in DC's Extended Universe) and Aidan Turner, the former cast member of The Hobbit now scything through fields as the sweaty star of TV's Poldark. Only time will tell.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox