Director: James Watkins
Starring: Idris Elba, Richard Madden and Kelly Reilly
Release Date: 22 April
There are not enough action films with Idris Elba in it! That’s not to say Idris Elba hasn’t been in many action films, or that he is being under-served in this department. But there should be more. We just want MORE!
This is the main thing that one takes out of Bastille Day, a clunky action movie with choked sputters of greatness, usually revolving around the former star of The Wire doing cool things in cool ways.
Almost all of the best parts of this film, which you will have seen in the trailer, showcase Elba engaging in some form of clichéd badassery. As Agent Briar, he fires off one-liners, smacks terrorists sideways and goes hopping around rooftops like a CIA-trained Santa Claus. None of these set pieces are particularly inspired, but it’s satisfying to see Elba slip into the role so smoothly. He’s a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, rolled into one suave package for a newer generation.
Frankly, we’d watch him in anything……except those Sky adverts. You’re better than that, Idris Elba.
Yet charisma can only carry a film so far, and sadly, it doesn’t carry far enough for us to call Bastille Day a success. It’s quite telling that this is director James Watkins first foray into action. An early rooftop chase scene should be adrenaline pumping, but it’s viewed quite stoically and impersonally. The choreography is standard, the camerawork uninspired and the use of space is a total missed opportunity. It’s not dull by any means, but there’s no “Aw fuck yeah!” moment, which is a necessity for a film such as this.
Where the film fails is in its lack of commitment to a genre. Considering the director’s experience in horror, a thriller would have been the most natural segue. But the story is too dull and the characters, Elba included, are too one-dimensional for that to work. The terrorist villains are particularly forgettable, with their motives blandly summarised as “get rich”.
This is something action films are often criticized for, but they make up for it with plenty of silly action to distract the audience. Bastille Day lacks this as well, offering only a small handful of set-pieces of middling quality. They never outright drop the ball, but they’re certainly grasping at it with butterfingers.
As mentioned, it’s Elba who provides the films’ saving grace. He has no arc to speak of, but he’s still a fun character for us to get into the passenger seat with as he attempts to prevent terrorist attacks on the streets of Paris. Though this is a viewpoint not adopted by his co-star Richard Madden, with whom he shares an awkward chemistry.
Richard Madden, of Game of Thrones fame, doesn’t fare quite so well as Elba. To give him credit, he does have the best scene in the film (a calculated theft of many parts). But his lack of character development is far more pronounced than Idris Elba’s, because apparently he is the one we are supposed to relate to.
We’re supposed to buy into the idea that Madden’s Michael is forced to pick-pocket so that he can afford to go to med-school. This is an incredibly flimsy attempt to make him more relatable. By the time Agent Briar recruits him, that noble motivation is all but forgotten about, and why we should care about him at all is called into question.
He’s still a likable character, a credit to Madden’s charisma and talent. But he deserves better than what the script offers him to work with.
One would hope Bastille Day isn’t trying to be clever, because it most certainly is not. It’s an hour and a half of exposition and average gun-slinging. If you like the idea of Idris Elba kicking ass and going all John McClane in Paris, this might be a fun distraction.
But beware; for as Michael explains how he steals from his victims, “It’s all about the distraction.”
Written by Stephen Hill