From director James Watkins is a foray into the action genre with Bastille Day. His past work has been primarily in horror, with acclaimed hits Eden Lake and Woman in Black.
Set in Paris a con man, Michael (Richard Madden), steals a bag belonging to Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) which unknowingly to him contains a bomb. When the device detonates in the city centre CIA agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba) is put in charge of tracking Michael down.
Idris Elba and Richard Madden play off against each other very well, Elba as the super serious Briar and Madden as the immature conman have great chemistry together. Elba is blessed with a natural charisma that makes him easy to watch even when armed with the most underwritten of characters. Whilst Richard Madden holds his own as an entertaining pickpocket, with a few humorous moments. Neither of the pair completely master the American accents, but we’re also not in Dick Van Dyke territory so it doesn’t become too off putting. The action is suitably slick and steadily directed, though there are a lot of rapid cuts which threaten to break the cohesion of the action. The camera does remain steady though allowing most of the fight scenes to remain coherent. The style seems evocative of the Bourne Ultimatum and Taken, without ever excelling beyond either of these modern action favourites. The pickpocketing scenes are presented stylishly and are entertaining, especially compared to something like Focus from last year that made Will Smith’s thief seem somehow super-powered. However despite being superior in these circumstances Bastille Day constantly seems to be an imitation of other popular features released in the past few years without ever developing into something more unique. Setting the movie in Paris against the backdrop of the current tensions following the terrorist attacks is a weird choice for a film that seemingly doesn’t want to delve into such a highly divisive issue. The conflicted atmosphere of the cities multicultural classes is extorted by the films plot, but is never explored beyond the simplistic. Kelly Reilly is wasted as one of Briar’s co-workers; in a part that could have been portrayed by a box with the words “unimportant character” written on it. To have such a talented performer like Kelly Reilly in such a pointless role is mind boggling. Whilst Anatol Yusef (of Boardwalk Empire fame) is Briar’s superior, the one who likes to do things by the book and hates Briar for being such a loose cannon. Yusef is little more than a cliché obstacle whose main service to the narrative is to recite expositional backstory on other characters.
As a whole Bastille Day is little more than a run of the mill actioner, with nods to Taken, Focus and even Die Hard it struggles to find its own path. Elba and Madden do a fine job together, but there isn’t much too either of their characters worth thinking about. If you’re a fan of action then this may be something worth checking out, but be aware that there isn’t anything revolutionary about this Bastille Day.
Review by Alexander Halsall