Review: Bastille Day

– by David Morgan-Brown

bastille_day posterI hope this new action film makes at least three quarters of a billion dollars at the box-office to show that these kinds of films without a backing franchise and without elaborate explosive visual effects can still excite and entertain their audience enough to make as much money as the bombastic blockbusters. Bastille Day is an excellent action-thriller that delivers plenty of excitement, whilst featuring an engaging and very modern undertone of France’s (or any Western nation’s) socio-political state.

We see Michael (Richard Madden) is a professional pick-pocketer, whose elaborate distractions earn him plenty of wallets and jewelleries. However, things go pear-shaped for him when he steals a bag containing a bomb, which detonates close by to him (but luckily leaving him without a scratch). Now that he is the main target for this terrorist attack, he is hunted down by CIA agent Sean (Idris Elba) and this kerfuffle leads them spending the next two days leading up to Bastille Day trying to find who committed this act, as well as trying to prevent a second attack.

The action is small-scale, mostly delivering the thrills through car chases, on-foot chases, police-van beatings, and close-quarter shoot-outs. The action is tight, less excessive than Bond and a little slower than Bourne, but is still exciting and is paced out well amongst this on-the-move story. Covering just a couple of days, this story isn’t too unnecessarily complex, instead it makes the most out of its anxieties about terrorism and its twisting effect of the general public. Bastille Day cynically keeps you guessing as to who exactly to trust, as the terrorists have such a large grasp across not just the government institutions, but over the masses that are the French citizens. This is an insightful and rather clever bit of socio-political subtext going on that demonstrates how the antagonists can use social media to so easily corrupt the knee-jerk state of activism.

I was curious to see Idris Elba in this role here, which looked like a practise run for when he may be James Bond in the future, and he proves in this film he has a hell of a screen presence. When he asks Michael why he ran away from him when he approached, he responds “have you seen yourself?” This joke here is well deserved, as Elba has an assertiveness in his physicality and voice. Richard Madden holds his own well against this, playing up The Wrong Man role well, and a thin layer of humour going through the film (especially coming up in the banter between them) isn’t the most hilarious thing, but it isn’t unwelcome either, as it’s a familiar staple of modern action films to introduce a little humour to break the tension. Another small complaint is that the story briefly dives into implausibility at times (even too much for an unserious film like itself) and the terrorists’ main objective at the end sounds like something from a Bond movie … from the ‘70s.

For fans of a ‘90s kind of action film that focuses on physical action set-pieces rather than computer generated ones, Bastille Day will undeniably please fans hungry for a more grounded action film with more of a focus on the real world rather than an imagined one. With the political subtext seeming more clever and thought-out than the admittedly silly plotline, Bastille Day delivers the excitement and thrills all the while offering up a curious political insight into our modern-day world.


Image credit: Get Movie Poster, The National Student

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