thu 25/07/2024

Bastille Day | reviews, news & interviews

Bastille Day

Bastille Day

Parisian heist caper possibly hampered by bad timing

Idris Elba as Sean Briar. Today the CIA, tomorrow James Bond?

This Paris-set thriller was one of several films which had its release date postponed in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the French capital last November, giving the impression that it might be shockingly violent or provocatively political. In fact, it's a slightly uneasy mix of caper, buddy-movie and spy adventure, as its protagonists battle a high-level conspiracy involving the mother of all bank robberies.

You can imagine that director Jason Watkins (The Woman in Black) and screenwriter Andrew Baldwin may have had in mind such vintage Parisian adventures as Charade or Polanski's Frantic. Similar ingredients include visiting Americans getting caught up in enigmatic mysteries, and finding themselves permanently on the run from implacable but unidentified pursuers.

Our hapless protagonist is Michael Mason (Richard Madden, pictured right), an American expat scuffling a living as a con-artist and pickpocket. In an arresting early sequence, he fully exploits the art of misdirection by getting a girl to walk naked down the steps of Montmartre while he lifts the valuables of the preoccupied bystanders. He sells his pickings to a laid-back North African guy who doesn't ask questions.

But Mason's casual criminality trips him up when he lifts a bag belonging to Zoe Naville (Charlotte Le Bon). She happens to be the world's least capable terrorist bomber, having been talked into planting a suspect device at the offices of the right-wing political party Front Blanc. However, when Zoe sees that the building is full of African cleaners, she's overcome by her liberal instincts and can't do the deed. It's while she's working out what to do next that her bag gets nicked.

Mason dumps the bag in a bin. It blows up (we're told later, in a rather too-casual aside, that it killed four people). Next thing he knows, the local branch of the CIA are all over it, since their terrorist surveillance apparatus vastly outstrips the capabilities of the local authorities. Pointedly, the CIA intend to share as little as possible of their intelligence with the French.

The good news is, agency boss Karen Dacre (Kelly Reilly, pictured below with Agency colleagues) puts Sean Briar on the case, and he's played by Idris Elba. Elba has that priceless quality of being able to make every scene all about him, merely by being in it. He barely gets out of second gear here – you could imagine he took this job as a favour to an old mate, and also because gets to rap on Fatboy Slim's closing tune – but whenever he's in shot he makes you forget that the plot sputters like an old Citroen 2CV. Elba simply gazes down broodily like the Matterhorn on a stormy day.Big Driis chases Mason across the Parisian rooftops and scares the shit out of him in an agency interrogation room, but he can't help being impressed with the kid's pickpocketing skills (he can pilfer your wallet, take out the money and put it back in your pocket without you noticing.) Once it's established that Mason may be a thief but he's no terrorist, the pair buddy-up and go screeching across town in search of the real perps.

The cunning plan is that some bent geezers in the French security services are manipulating the terrorist threat for personal gain. Fans of French TV flic show Spiral will rejoice at the sight of burly Thierry Godard (alias Gilou) barging through doors with a machine gun and getting damned unscrupulous with anyone who gets in his way. The big climax involves the vaults of the Banque de France on the titular Bastille Day, with Elba giving it maximum Jason Bond inside while anarchists battle riot police outside.

It's entertaining enough if you stick your brain in "Park", but once the action stops you'll find your plate devoid of food for thought. Unless you want to ponder its unfortunate timing and whether, in the light of hideous recent events, Bastille Day's journey was really necessary. 

Elba gazes down broodily like the Matterhorn on a stormy day


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters