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Bastille Day is a decent, predictable action movie, elevated by the strong pairing of Idris Elba and Richard Madden.
Pickpocket Michael Mason (Madden) gets in over his head when he ends up stealing a bag with a bomb in it. When it goes off in a public place in Paris, killing four people, Mason becomes a target for both the law and the people behind the attack. CIA agent Sean Bryer (Elba) tracks Mason down, hoping to get to the people responsible with his help. Meanwhile, tension mounts in the French capital on the eve of Bastille Day, the French National Holiday, and the consequences of the attack threaten to plunge the city into chaos.
Bastille Day taps into a number of very current, and very sensitive issues – Paris under attack, police brutality, immigration and the hostility surrounding it. In the wrong hands this could have ended up in some very uncomfortable, possibly even exploitative territory, but to my surprise, Bastille Day pulled it off quite well. It did not set out to give any kind of social or political commentary, nor did anything feel like it was there for shock value – it just felt like a reflection of current affairs, as a means to set up an action movie plot.
Although the premise is interesting and shows promise, Bastille Day quickly falls back on familiar tropes, practically going full Die Hard 3 near the end. At times, the movie feels almost impatient, rushing to get to certain plot beats and conclusions before the characters actually would. For example, at one point it’s revealed that the bad guys have contacts in the French police, which means Bryer and Mason cannot really trust anyone other than themselves. So far, so good, except both of them pretty much fend for themselves right from the start, as if they were already in on it. There are several other times like this, where characters make decisions that do not make sense given what they know, but will turn out to be the correct course of action because of the plot. It’s contrived, and while it does not hold the movie back, it’s certainly noticeable and a little distracting.
Then there are times where the characters straight up act like idiots. At one point, Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), the woman who had the bag with the bomb in it, says she feels responsible for the people that have died and wants to do something to help Bryer – right before instigating a riot to cause a distraction. Sure, that did help, but I doubt the many people that undoubtedly got injured would ease her conscience.
Bryer and Mason also have their fair share of dumb moments that I will not go into too much detail – some are plot contrivances, others are just plain dumb.
Elba and Madden work well together and their pairing, along with a handful of pretty good action scenes are the main draws of Bastille Day. An early rooftop chase was a particular highlight for me. There was something about the two of them constantly tripping or slipping on French rooftops that really made the chase feel more real, adding to the tension.
Elba brings a towering physical presence and a sense of authority to Bryer with his performance. His character is meant to be reckless, which is reflected more in his intentions, than his actions, which feel very calculated. Bryer knows what he wants or has to do and he never hesitates. He’s not a particularly complex character, and there are moments where he gets too violent, but the movie’s smart enough to have Mason call him out on it.
The humor is hit and miss. Bryer and Mason’s banter works for the most part, but every once in a while there will be an exchange that just falls completely flat, like the elevator scene that was in trailer. It did not even get a chuckle out of me or the audience I was with.
Smart, competent and safe really are the best words to describe Bastille Day. It has a streak of dumb that drags it down, particularly in the third act, but apart from that, it mostly falls on a reliable action movie framework with a pair of likable leads. It’s not a bad movie, not at all, especially considering how close it flies to the sun with a lot of its subject matter. I’ve seen better action movies, but I’ve also seen worse.
I asked myself if I would be interested in seeing these characters return in a sequel to Bastille Day and honestly, I think the answer is yes – so I guess I liked it. There’s certainly room for improvement, but I’d be willing to give them another shot, unless they call it Bastille Day: Resurgence, I’m out.