Alarm bells start to ring when one of the opening scenes in a modern crime film features a law enforcement agent receiving a dressing down from his superiors (because he’s reckless and insubordinate, of course, and his behaviour endangers the lives of others). Unfortunately this action thriller – directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake) and scripted by Andrew Baldwin – contains several other clichés that no filmmaker or writer should be going near in 2016, as well as corny twists that are delivered so lumpenly they unintentionally induce mirth. In fact – and I take no pleasure in saying this – there’s very little in Bastille Day that can honestly be described as original. Idris Elba is the Paris-based CIA agent whose methods are generally overlooked (he’s unconventional but he gets results, etc. etc.), while Richard Madden (hitherto best known for his role as Robb Stark in Game Of Thrones) plays an American pickpocket helping the CIA after he becomes embroiled in a bizarre criminal operation. Said plan, due to be executed on Bastille Day, involves an unnecessarily-complicated mish-mash of terrorists, bombs, a burgeoning Front Nationale-style right wing party, a bank robbery and a stitch-up of the city’s Muslim community, and it’s up to Elba and Madden’s characters to thwart it. As you can probably deduce the writer has tried very hard to inject currency into (or disguise) a basic, thin genre plot – the kind we’ve recently seen in this year’s Triple 9 – but it’s hard not to let out an exasperated sigh when a band of Anonymous-style activists are also thrown in to the mix. Bastille Day couldn’t be any more 2016 if it tried, though perhaps we should just be thankful that it doesn’t include a news report about a celebrity unexpectedly carking it.
The screenplay’s full of banal expository dialogue, tired exchanges and cardboard cutout bad guys, while the acting is patchy at best: Elba, Madden and Kelly Reilly – who plays a high-ranking CIA official – are all British actors in roles that require American accents, and all three fail to convince (a surprise in Elba’s case, given his earlier consistent performance in The Wire). The supporting actors are generally disappointing, too, with Anatol Yusef and Charlotte Le Bon delivering turns that aren’t quite up to scratch and which make you wonder whether their characters have grasped the importance of the situation at hand. However – and lo, there’s some fresh pickle on the mouldy burger – Watkins proves to be adept at directing action, and there are a couple of scenes here that stand up to a lot of the set pieces you’ll have seen in the past decade’s Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt or James Bond-related films. A breathless chase across the rooftops is an early highlight, with some fine stunt work, while a later fight involving five characters in the back of a van is very well choreographed and superbly stitched together by editor Jon Harris. Unfortunately such moments of quality are few and far between, and they cannot save Bastille Day as it careers into a final act of nonsensical, preposterous twaddle. And I don’t use the ‘T’ word lightly.
Directed by: James Watkins.
Written by: Andrew Baldwin.
Starring: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Eriq Ebouaney, José Garcia, Kelly Reilly, Anatol Yusef.
Cinematography: Tim Maurice-Jones.
Editing: Jon Harris.
Music: Alex Heffes.
Running Time: 91 minutes.