BASTILLE DAY, UK, 2016. Starring Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Kelly Reilly, Jose Garcia. Directed by James Watkins. 92 minutes,. Rated M (Action violence, coarse language and nudity).
If you are after a brief and brisk, old-fashioned (even new-fashioned) action show with some substance, a conspiracy theory, then why not Bastille Day. It runs for only 92 minutes and doesn’t waste much time at all.
It is a drama of terrorism in Paris, bombs in the streets, the searching of mosques, rabble-roused protesters in the streets of Paris on Bastille Day, urged on by messages on social media. It was actually produced before the real terrorist events of 2015 in the city of Paris and the plot is quite different from those events, a situation where extreme nationalists seem to be the villains but, in fact, the target is more mundane, greed. Muslims are being set up by authorities, bomb-making equipment planted in mosques, faked scenes of police bashing an innocent bystander which are put on Youtube.
For those who know Paris, the opening is at Montmartre, a nude woman walking new down the steps in front of the basilica, an ingenious ploy for a pickpocket to go about his profession amongst the distracted and/or leering onlookers.
But the attention is really on the pickpocket, played by Richard Madden, a vagrant American who quickly learns that he needs to check what he has stolen or it can lead to dire consequences, even deaths.
In the meantime, we are introduced to Briar, a CIA agent who is tough, tends to work alone, subordination not being one of his virtues. As might be expected, he will win the day – not without some struggles, fights, moments of defeat and frustration, but relentlessly using his wits and his fists and guns to right all the wrongs. He is played very effectively by Idris Elba, television’s Luther who also appeared as Nelson Mandela in The Long Walk to Freedom. (There been many rumours that he could be in line to be the next James Bond – and this film is more than a calling card!).
The action takes place over little more than 24 hours, the CIA agent working very quickly, endorsed by his boss, Kelly Reilly, but disapproved of by her associate. It is not long before he picks up the pickpocket who is forced to be a collaborator in the search for the villains and for a woman who had been commissioned to place a bomb in an office as a first strike warning but who changed her mind when the cleaners came into the office. As we might guess, the pickpocket steals the bag which contains the bomb and throws it on a rubbish heap with explosive consequences.
Elba and Madden make an interesting odd couple, touches of banter although Briar is prone to deadly seriousness. As the villains are gradually revealed, the CIA finally decides to give information to the French authorities. The pickpocket finds that his profession can be particularly useful in crises.
The move towards the finale seems to indicate that Briar, the pickpocket and the girl do not have a chance at all. … And there is quite some action in the streets as well as in the French National Bank – Briar is one of those one-man bands that saves the day despite all odds. An effective finale in the basement of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
In fact, a good action show with better-drawn characters than might be expected and some substance to the plot – and the various plots.
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released May 12th.