Elba excels...rest a Gallic gaggle
A small-time criminal is in the wrong place at the wrong time in director James Watkins’ action-packed thriller, which promotes Idris Elba as the next iteration of agent 007 when Daniel Craig holsters his Walther PPK for good.
Shot on location in London and Paris, Bastille Day boasts a thrilling rooftop chase performed by the actors rather than stunt doubles.
Elba is a surly, muscular presence at the centre of every action sequence. After one breathless chase, his strapping 6-foot 3 CIA agent asks a petty criminal why he decided to run.
“You were coming after me. Have you seen yourself?” comes the tongue-in-cheek response.
Budgetary constraints and haphazard plotting from screenwriter Andrew Baldwin conspire against the leading man, and misfiring on-screen chemistry with co-star Richard Madden undermines Watkins’ dream of crafting a mismatched buddy cop movie in the vein of 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon.
Foregoing expensive slam-bang thrills, Bastille Day opts for murky political intrigue and a grand conspiracy that confirms the biggest crooks are powerful men in suits, who should be serving and protecting the public, not greedily fleecing them.
Expert pickpocket Michael Mason (Madden) steals passports, accessories and smartphones at major tourist hot-spots like the Sacre-Coeur at Montmartre to fulfil orders for middleman Baba (Eriq Ebouaney). During a scouting mission, Michael spies a young activist, Zoe Naville (Charlotte Le Bon), in a state of distress. She isn’t paying attention to her shopping bag, so Michael expertly swipes it when her back is turned.
He takes the valuables and casually discards the bag, unaware that a bomb is buried inside. The device detonates, killing innocent bystanders, and Michael is unwittingly condemned a terrorist by CCTV footage.
Rogue US operative Sean Briar (Idris Elba), who is assigned to the CIA station in Paris under Karen Dacre (Kelly Reilly), vows to apprehend Michael before an elite French SWAT team led by Rafi (Thierry Godard).
A game of cat and mouse between Briar, Michael and Rafi plays out around the arrondissements.
Meanwhile, the real bombers plan their next move, creating a public relations nightmare for the embattled French Minister of Homeland Security, Victor Gamieux (Jose Garcia).
Bastille Day was originally scheduled to open in February, but the film’s release date was, understandably, pushed back two months in the aftermath of the terror attacks in the French capital.
Opening scenes of the bomb blast outside a metro station in a bustling square are chilling without seeming gratuitous.
Elba effortlessly copes with the physicality of his role, but Madden is a tepid sidekick, and Le Bon is completely superfluous.
There are undeniable pleasures here – including an occasionally hilarious verbal exchange – but they are scant and slight.