Bastille Day (15) | Close-Up Film Review


Dir. James Watkins, France/US, 2016, 92 mins

Cast:  Idris Elba, Richard Maddon, Kelly Reilly

“It’s all about the distraction” says petty thief Michael Mason (Madden) when explaining his sparkling technique in an interrogation from CIA badass Brier (Elba). While the film is busy distracting the audience with strange American accents, Rob Stark and DI Luther teaming up to steal things, shoot things and avert something from happening, you might start to wonder what the substance you’ve been distracted from was supposed to be in the first place.

It is possible to explain the plot but that would ruin any fun you might have being baffled and seeing how long it takes until you stop caring about the ‘story’ and just sit back and wait for the one-liners or the excellent sequence in the RAPID police van. Bastille Day follows a weary formula, hell-bent on contriving to put Idris Elba and Richard Madden in the same shot.

Elba’s popularity in America has clearly spawned this attempt to shoehorn his London-based alter-ego into the CIA as the exact same character. Supposedly tasked on surveillance and containment, DCI Luther (sorry, Sean Briar) turns out to be a maverick officer with a disregard for authority who kicks his way to answers; #familiar. He seems to know everything about everything with very little context for why he might possess these skills or behave in such a way. Luther is, or began as a fantastic show, with his brash single-mindedness a refreshing angle on police drama. Set against a big-screen backdrop however his recklessness gets exaggerated so far beyond suspension of disbelief that Victor Meldrew would have a field day watching him. Unfortunately for Elba, the similarity to his TV persona makes him look one-dimensional. He’s an actor that can do action but the movie is just such a blunt instrument for him. Why did he agree to it and where is the menacing, yet nuanced performance as Stringer Bell in The Wire, and for that matter the seamless accent that accompanied it?

Madden escapes his pigeonhole (maybe he’s a warg!) by playing an insecure slick pick-pocket. There is a CIA sequence where they narrate his life story in the pretext of pursuing him as a chief suspect. They actually do this in order that we ‘understand’ why he is troubled and has chosen this superficially flashy money-grabbing life of crime. It’s pretty demeaning from the filmmakers and completely undermines any interest or ability to explore the fragility Madden tries to achieve every now and again.

So maybe the film made stupid decisions because it’s just a fun action thriller and they were having such fun making it that it all got a bit out of hand? You know, it might be the case, but let’s hope it isn’t. Firstly, the pretext for the event Brier and Mason must team up to stop is brought about through a thorny issue of incitement to violence. The immigrant community in France are blamed for the explosion which sucks Mason into Brier’s paws. Secondly, the police are seen beating and victimising said immigrants which further fans the flames of violence. Can they really ask you to buy this as a serious socio-political reality, while simultaneously peddling such poorly drawn characters and tired CIA-related scenarios?

There are some genuinely funny moments between Elba and Madden. Elba tells him that innocent people don’t run, to which he receives the reply “have you seen yourself?”, but if you’ve seen the trailer, you know this is coming. Other laughable, as opposed to funny, moments include the sending of incendiary hashtags on Twitter. This, apparently, will be the final straw which will tear Paris apart and topple the pillars of Western society, initiating a second revolution on Bastille Day; #hmm. Hilarious gallows humour springs from a character being shot, literally about a hundred times, followed by someone feeling his pulse and wondering whether he is dead. This probably wasn’t supposed to be funny, but by this point in the film, it’s just absurdist madness.

Review by George Meixner