Director: James Watkins
Writers: Andrew Baldwin (screenplay), James Watkins
Stars: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon
James Watkins’s third feature film sees him make a departure from horror and tackle the action/drama genre with Bastille Day. It’s a taut and pacy affair, which follows a young pickpocket inadvertently caught up in a suspected Parisian terrorist attack and his attempts to clear his name, whilst finding the real culprits alongside an uncompromising CIA agent.
Beginning with three distinct introductory scenes for what will be the three main protagonists in the film. The first of these is Michael Mason (Richard Madden), opening right in the middle of a hustle involving a young, nude woman, being used as a diversion, as the adept, young, hustler moves in and deftly lifts passports and other valuables. We then meet Sean Briar (Idris Elba), a CIA agent, who’s being grilled by two superiors for presumably doing something (it never does say what), before he’s handed the punishment of a surveillance gig in Paris (if that’s what the CIA deems a punishment then I’m in the wrong job). Finally, it introduces Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), a conflicted young woman, embroiled in what appears to be a terrorist cell, just as she’s about to plant a bomb in the offices of what looks like a political candidate. She’s startled by cleaning staff however and, not expecting anyone to be there, she gets cold feet.
Zoe and Michael’s paths intertwine immediately afterwards, essentially kickstarting the films story, when the latter witnesses the young woman making a frantic and distressed call to explain her earlier failure to plant the bomb. Thinking that there’s something valuable inside the bag by her side, he decides to move in and steal it. Of course, he bites off more than he can chew, and upon discovering a teddy inside, he discards it in the middle of a busy, little square, effectively implicating himself in a terrorist attack when the explosive device inside detonates seconds later. Realising this after scanning around the scene, Michael smartly decides to leave the area sharpish. Unfortunately for poor old Michael though, this is the 21st century and there’s a little thing known as a surveillance camera that’s dotted across most major cities. His face is soon plastered all over the French news and his identity very much in the conscience of the CIA (who just happened to be running a surveillance operation, which was handy).
Briar who initially comes after Mason, believing him to be responsible, has a brief and quite cool, cat and mouse chase with the latter across the Parisian roofs, through an unsuspecting mans home, descending down into a mobbed market and finally ending with a brutal take down off a stolen motorcycle. It doesn’t take long for him to realise that the Las Vegas native, Mason, isn’t responsible for the attack, at least not on his own anyone, following a quick and sadly lacklustre interrogation scene. There’s an escape made by Mason in between, but the pair eventually combine forces to try and track down the elusive Zoe. There’s once again some back and forth chasing between the trio, and another very cool, choreographed scene, involving Mason as he enters Zoe’s peroxide abusing, friends pub and rather nicely shows his hustling talents once again, setting up multiple distractions, before quickly nicking in and stealing the friends ID. When the trio finally do cross paths and work together (this is becoming a pattern), Sean makes the startling discovery of a Police badge in Zoe’s dead, terrorist come double agent, lovers apartment.
Thus the film enters its final act full of twists, conspiracies and revelations. You see, it wasn’t a planned terrorist attack at all, but a conspiracy involving a government official and RAPID, an elite, rogue police swat team. The official, Victor Gamieux (José Garcia), head of intelligence in the French government has been stoking up hate crime in the facist, right wing elements of the populace via a proxy group to create the ultimate distraction, whilst he and his rogue officers conduct an elaborate heist worth half a billion dollars. Got that? Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking, that’s quite a convoluted story for a popcorn, action, flick. To make matters worse, members of the RAPID team have infiltrated the extremist cells as double agents and it’s slowly unraveled to the viewer in a series of small eureka moments. I actually enjoyed the fairly complex nature (ok, it wasn’t THAT complex, but it’s a bloody action film) of the story towards the end and the way it was revealed. Watkins did a good job of slowly breaking it down and leaving one final twist at the end which acted as a nice, redemptive, conclusion to the troubled Masons arc.
Before I quickly break down performances, I want to start by saying that although I enjoyed this film for what it was, those American accents from Elba and Madden were just painful on the ear. I mean brutally bad. Elba did what he usually does and delivered a good, solid performance as Briar. Accent aside, he showcased his talents here, not to mention a propensity for some good action sequences. I think this guy should definitely be the next James Bond. It would break down barriers in that franchise and he possesses everything requires for the role. Madden was solid enough as Mason too and managed to share the leading role with Elba, effectively portraying the troubled, runway, hustler without much fuss. I enjoyed Le Bon’s performance as Zoe and I thought she added some emotional resonance at points, but also her fair share of gnarliness too. An honourable mention to Garcia who was also decent as the sly, villainous Gamieux. His character almost reminded me of an Emperor light as he sat in the background pulling the strings like a puppeteer.
I enjoyed this film quite a bit more than I expected, but out with a few notable exceptions, I’m not usually the type of person to watch an action film, so that’s perhaps not surprising. It wasn’t perfect by any means and there’s definitely some moments which require a suspension of disbelief. Despite that, it’s still an enjoyable 90 minute flick with some good performances and if you’re bored with a couple of hours to burn then I’d certainly recommend giving it a blast.