This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016
What do you get when you cast an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Frenchwoman in a terrorist action-thriller set in Paris? Well, when you add a predominantly European cast, scenes heavily reliant on subtitles and an underlying whip-smart script, it’s a veritable calling card from a hitherto small-scale director who is probably on the phone to Hollywood as we speak.
Bastille Day kicks off at pace with an absorbing action sequence which leads to a fatal bombing in central Paris. (Initially you wonder if this premise is “too soon”, but the film was shot in 2014 so it is merely uncomfortably prescient.) Contemporary cinema’s omnipresent Idris Elba plays a renegade CIA agent who takes it upon himself to catch the culprit, throwing him nicely into an odd-couple relationship with a pickpocket who is running from his past (Richard Madden, thankfully playing it more Game of Thrones than Cinderella). These two British actors don passable American accents and leather jackets as they fight to prove Madden’s innocence while tracking the real baddies.
The pseudo-European sensibility of the film is proved not just by the Franglais and charming street settings, but the refreshingly realistic rooftop chase scene which sees its performers flounder without the skills of parkouristes like Jason Bourne. Elba and Madden shoot criticisms and witticisms at each other in an endearing rather than annoying way, and while this is certainly not Charlotte Le Bon’s movie, the girl from The Hundred-Foot Journey should consider it her springboard into mainstream American fare.
Smartly written, multi-cultural and thematically relevant, Bastille Day is a more intelligent and satisfying action thriller than we’re used to, with any narrative curiosities able to be written off as “so French” rather than jarringly wrong. Capped off with the best fight scene ever choreographed in a small space, Bastille Day is a blast.
NOTE: This film was released in France on 13th July 2016, to coincide with the timeline of the story. However, due to the terrorist attack that devastated Nice on Bastille Day, the film was understandably pulled from distribution on the 17th, out of respect for the victims and families.