Title: Bastille Day
Director: James Watkins
Major Players: Idris Elba, Richard Madden
Out Of Five: 3
After Eye In The Sky’s topical long distance warfare last week, the fight against terrorism comes much closer to home in Bastille Day. In a way that’s become all too familiar in recent months. Yet British director James Watkins has said he wanted to create a fun, Friday night rollercoaster of a movie, one with throwbacks to the action films and TV series of the 70s and 80s. So how does he reconcile the two?
In Paris, skilled pickpocket Michael (Richard Madden) lifts a woman’s bag, unaware of its contents. A bomb. When it goes off, he’s the main suspect and finds himself being pursued not just by the police. There’s the CIA, one agent in particular, Briar (Idris Elba). There’s the people who were really behind the bomb, who are also stirring up unrest among Parisians around the 14th July holiday. They have their own motives and Briar is trying to unravel the whole conspiracy – all by himself, of course. Only now he has help, after a fashion, from Michael.
How you feel about the film might depend on what’s happening in the world at the time. The screening I attended was just a couple of days after the Brussels bombings: they were all too fresh in my mind, as were the issues associated with them. The story here is kickstarted by a bomb in an urban setting, but those behind it implicate the local Muslim community. So it all felt a bit too close to the bone and not quite like the entertainment it was intended to be. But, as they say, timing is everything …..
Put that topicality to one side and, yes, you do have something that’s a throwback to the 70s. The apparently mis-matched pair at the centre of the story, who actually get along OK and indulge in banter along the way, are straight out of The Professionals or The Sweeney. There’s plenty of action, but without huge reliance on CGI for a change. The fights are more traditional fisticuffs, although there are a couple which are perhaps more 2016 in style. One of them, inside a prison van with Elba taking on several baddies single handed in a confined space, is genuinely fast and furious.
It’s all part of the fun, and so is the humour between the two main characters. Elba, having caught Madden, asks him why he ran away if he’s innocent. “Have you seen yourself?” is the reply. He had a point. There are moments that raise an unintentional laugh as well: the gang talking about launching hashtags in their social media campaign sounds awkward in translation into English. To French ears, it probably would sound fine.
Elba’s star is very much in the ascendancy: Zootropolis came out last month and The Jungle Book last week, so the film and its marketing majors on him. In truth, he can do this kind of rogue agent – he’s regularly quoting a report which describes him as “reckless and irresponsible” – and action man stuff in his sleep. He cut his teeth on it but at least he tackles his role with energy and there’s no sign of him phoning it in. He could do with a partner who provides a more substantial counterpoint: Madden, by comparison, is lightweight and pretty – no wonder Kenneth Branagh cast him as Prince Charming on film and Romeo on stage – but it’s a lop-sided partnership. Not that Elba fans will have any problem with that.
So it’s a fun, action packed, thick-ear thriller. The only things they didn’t have back in the 70s were the computers and mobile phones which are so essential to the plot here. But the style is nigh-on pure 70s, so Watkins has pretty much succeeded in creating the kind of film he had in mind. And it certainly fits the bill as a Friday night film. As long as you can put recent events to the back of your mind.
Bastille Day is released in cinemas on Friday, 22 April and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 21 April.