Bastille Day

 

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A CIA agent and a pickpocket team up to foil a terrorist threat – and worse – in James Watkins’ efficient and suspenseful thriller.

 

 Bastille Day

 

Paris does rather lend itself to filmmakers. And James Watkins and Andrew Baldwin’s ingenious script certainly makes the most of it. There’s a chase across those famous rooftops. Check. There’s a chic, attractive damsel in distress. Check. There are eye-caressing vistas of that stunning skyline. Check. And there’s all that lovely history that still resonates today. Throw in the city’s rising immigration problem, the bitter echo of the Paris riots and the increasing reality of terrorism on the streets and you have a piquant crackerjack of a thriller.

 

Had the narrative strands of Bastille Day not been so skilfully woven together, one might have accused the film of over-achieving. Yet the whole thing flows as effortlessly and efficiently as the TGV railway. The director James Watkins certainly knows his audience. It was he who brought us the deeply disturbing, frighteningly credible Eden Lake and the genuinely unnerving and atmospheric The Woman in Black.

 

Watkins kicks off his new film with not only a desktop shot of the Sacré-Cœur but of a beautiful naked woman walking down the steps in front of it. She proves to be not just a distraction for us, the audience, but for the victims of Michael Mason (Richard Madden), a pickpocket with almost supernatural dexterity. He is an American (“on the run from himself”) in Paris and is not the only one. CIA surveillance agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba) has already been reprimanded for his aggressive tactics and is being held on a short leash by his superior (Kelly Reilly). Whatever goes down in the French capital next, he better mind his Ps and Qs. Meanwhile, the French damsel – Zoe Naville (Charlotte Le Bon) – has been persuaded to plant a bomb in an empty office building as “a warning.” But at the sight of a gaggle of cleaners there, she changes her mind and heads back to the nocturnal streets of the Pigalle. While she’s momentarily distracted, her bag – containing the bomb – is snatched by Michael and summarily disposed of, moments before it goes off, killing four civilians. Now Michael is the most wanted man on the Continent and a whole chain of increasingly nightmarish events are set in motion which only Briar would seem to have the nous and nerve to sort out…

 

With its original release delayed last year (for obvious reasons), Bastille Day may play like a by-the-numbers action-thriller, but it’s playing with big numbers. With racist unrest manipulated by social media (think back to the London riots of 2011), the city becomes a tinderbox in which multiculturism and police corruption clash in a plot so venal that one can but admire its audacity. The French do not come off well, while the three principal American characters are all played by British actors. Idris Elba in particular nails his part of the loose cannon, with his dry delivery of the one-liners putting Pierce Brosnan to shame (note well, you producers of Bond 25). It’s also a relief to encounter an Anglo-French film in which the French participants actually speak in French (and there’s a surprising amount of French dialogue). This, then, is ‘guilty pleasure’ escapism of the highest order, skilfully plotted, highly topical and beautifully played by Elba in a film big enough to support his considerable presence.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Kelly Reilly, José Garcia, Eriq Ebouaney, Laura-Ann Brand.

 

Dir James Watkins, Pro Bard Dorros, Fabrice Gianfermi, Steve Golin, David Kanter and Philippe Rousselet, Screenplay James Watkins and Andrew Baldwin, Ph Tim Maurice-Jones, Pro Des Paul Kirby, Ed Jon Harris, Music Alex Heffes, Costumes Guy Speranza.

 

Anonymous Content/Vendôme Pictures-StudioCanal.

91 mins. UK/USA/France. 2016. Rel: 22 April 2016. Cert. 15.