Film Review: Bastille Day (M15+) (USA/France, 2016)

Though on its own terms Bastille Day is an above-average action thriller with a slew of slick action sequences and enough plot twists to make you dizzy, you can’t help but view it as star Idris Elba’s unofficial audition for the next 007 film, with the actor’s name quite often mentioned as a serious contender to hold that torch once Daniel Craig is ready to pass it on.

With a stand-out Parisian based rooftop chase that plays out just as well as anything filmmakers have expertly choreographed for Craig’s take on Ian Fleming’s classic secret agent, and Elba’s own intoxicating blend of charisma and machoism constantly on display, Bastille Day easily places itself amongst the Bourne’s and Bond’s of the genre.  Its adoption of the odd-couple buddy action mentality however (a tactic that ran so rampant in the 80’s and 90’s) allows it to also somewhat stand out on its own as the film playfully serves as a reminder of a time when action movies were far simpler and didn’t need intelligence to survive.

With a plot involving terrorism, politics and police corruption, it’s no surprise that the recent Paris terror attacks delayed the film’s initial release, though it ultimately overcomes any unease audiences may have with its predictable but no-less effective formula that manages to create a sense of palpable tension as CIA agent Briar (Elba) goes on the hunt for American pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden, best known as Robb Stark on TV’s Game of Thrones), presumed a terrorist following an inadvertent “attack”.

Mason’s sleight-of-hand talents are on full display in a particularly enjoyable opening sequence where he accumulates his share of wallets, passports and mobile phones as he winds through the crowds at Montmartre’s Sacre Coeur.  One possession he acquires, a stray backpack lifted from unwilling bomb mule Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), turns out to be laced with an explosive, and when he is caught on camera with the package he finds himself public enemy no.1.

Hoping to prove his innocence, as well as convince Zoe to relinquish all the details she knows of the terrorist plot, Mason unwillingly teams up with Briar as they speed around Paris in hopes of uncovering a common enemy.  Elba and Madden make for a surprisingly effective duo – Elba’s no-nonsense agent is tinged with well-executed comedic touches – and you can imagine the twosome working together again under similar circumstances with the film presenting itself like the first in an on-going series; the realities of a Bastille Day 2 appear highly unlikely though.

Far more entertaining than it has any right to be, Bastille Day may be a B-grade actioner that attempts to bite off more than it can chew but it owns its personality and doesn’t apologise for it.  Plus, if nothing else, it’s 90 minutes of Idris Elba dominating the silver screen – a destination he deserves to conquer.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Bastille Day is released in cinemas this Thursday, May 12th.

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Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.