IDRIS Elba and Richard Madden take to the streets of Paris in Bastille Day, an overtly conventional action thriller that overall plays not as weak as its beginning suggests, but still leaves one feeling underwhelmed.
When professional American pickpocket Michael (Madden) steals the bag of a young woman Zoe (Charlotte le Bon), he thinks nothing much about the items in it. As he walks away, a bomb goes off and results in him being labelled nationwide as the prime suspect for the explosion, though he had no knowledge whatsoever about it.
As disgraced CIA operative Sean Briar (Elba) tracks down Michael and brings him into custody, for him to clear his name, he will have to help find Zoe, who changed her mind about planting a bomb at an office, right before the bag was stolen. It transpires that she is now on the run from a corrupt and ruthless police network who are creating social conflict conveniently before Paris’s national holiday.
Fending off dodgy cops and agitated superiors, Sean and Michael’s journey to uncovering the sinister activities leads to a gun-ho climax at the Banque de France, which the officers are planning to rob from.
One goes into an action film knowing that they are not going to get La Dolce Vita or The Shawshank Redemption, but at the least hope they can get something consistently entertaining for an hour and a half. In this case, Bastille Day proves that there could be far worse, but does not do too much else either.
When the film starts, the standard use of cop and criminal characters is introduced as is an idea of the kind of lives they lead. Michael uses the distraction of a nude friend walking around a street while he discreetly nicks wallet after wallet off hypnotised passers-by. Briar finds himself questioned in regards as to how an operation he worked on led to the death of a witness but defends himself with rhetorical insults to his superior.
Clearly the script falls below par and that is expected, but the more one views such clichéd material, the more one expects to be disappointed. The clichéd areas make actors like Kelly Reilly in her role as a colleague of Briar’s become wasted and placed really for filler.
As the action kicks in later, an average rooftop chase just gives Elba (often looking exhausted) and Madden the excuse to smash through windows and run through the living rooms of strangers, culminating in a market pursuit which Elba eventually wins.
By this point, it is clear that the film is not going to impress overall but there might be a denial for boredom if the film slightly improves. That it does, not by a long stretch, but enough to not hate the film.
The action sequences continue at a steady pace, most notably a scene inside a police van where Sean susses out the agents in his vicinity are corrupt, leading to a brawl mixing fisticuffs and gunshots in such a cramped space. The climactic sequence in which Elba single-handedly takes on about a dozen officers in the bank entertains, yet it is one of a few predictable sequences in this film, which do not display much of a surprise when they happen.
Elba is a welcoming presence for this film in that a character like his requires an actor whose likability is apparent. Some may argue that this could be a possible ‘audition’ for taking on James Bond, a role which Elba is arguably too old to start playing now, given he would likely not start, if considered, until in his mid-40s and be in his 50s upon concluding.
It leaves one hoping though that Elba continues to make action thrillers in future. By that one means playing a potentially iconic character in a genuinely entertaining alternative-Bond franchise which would succeed thanks to his presence.
His acting here is not the sort that wins Oscars but there is an effectiveness to it that makes the performance believable for the genre. One scene that displays such a view is when it is implied that Michael, using his skills as a pickpocket, stole from Sean’s pocket a piece that describes his reputation at work. Once Michael starts dictating the information, Sean works out what’s happened, resulting in his brief but fierce declaration to never enter his pockets again, a sign of the conflicting relationship the two have that Elba deserves credit for slightly elevating above ordinary.
It is not good but it is not terrible either though Bastille Day relies more on its lead hero to increase the entertainment factor for what ends up as a mildly decent but ultimately too basic action thriller.