Bastille Day is probably one of the most overlooked movies this year. I’m glad I didn’t overlook it, because it’s one small step away from being one of my favourite thrillers.
Every once in a while, I end up in the cinema, watching a movie I never had any intention of seeing. Most of the time, this does not end well, like with Ghost Rider – but sometimes I get lucky, and I find myself pleasantly surprised. This was the case with Bastille Day, which I only ended up watching because it was one of two movies showing at the cinema that day, the other one which I had already seen.
Bastille Day is probably the most classic action movie I have seen in the last few years. The story is simple. Michael Mason (Richard Madden) is a young pickpocket living in Paris. One day, he’s got the bad luck to steal the one bag in all of Paris containing a bomb, which promptly leaves him as the prime terror suspect of CIA agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba). Idris Elba and Michael Mason were what got me into the cinema, not the plot of the poster, which looks very forgettable.
Elba and Madden are also what made this movie so enjoyable. I can only remember seeing Richard Madden in Game of Thrones, where his job was to look stoic and serious, which he did just fine, and as Prince Charming in Cinderella, which I have tried very hard to banish from my memory. In Bastille Day, he finally gets the chance to show more than two emotions on screen, and it works out just fine. Idris Elba’s acting talent is undeniable, with the role of Sean Briar perfectly suited to fit his strengths, playing a intimidating tough guy with a soft spot. While the two actors could hardly be more different, they work together really well, with Richard Madden taking care of most of the dialogue, and Idris Elba using a number of stares ranging from exasperated to furious.
Lacking in all the right things
Bastille Day delivers exactly what it promises, an action film, full of all the chase scenes, banter and gun fights we’ve all seen hundreds of times. What really makes it stand out though, are all the things it lacks. There’s no implausible romantic subplot. There are no gigantic CGI explosions, and crumbling buildings. Not every chase scene comes past the Eiffel Tower a minimum of three times. The heroes aren’t trying to save the whole world. The movie doesn’t shatter world views, or reinvent a genre. It never tries to. Overall, this makes it all the more real, and relatable. It almost feels like something that could actually happen.
Viking Idris Elba
Really, the movie only has one serious flaw, but sadly one that’s been bugging me more and more ever since I saw it. The movie is full of French and British actors, with not a single American actor in sight. But for some reason, it was decided that everyone should be working for the CIA, and pretend to be American. So everyone is busy faking all kinds of sometimes strange American accents, instead of just using their native accents. Did the producers think their audience wouldn’t understand who MI6 is? Or that a movie set in Paris not involving the CIA would somehow make it too foreign for the American market? I find both ideas very condescending.
The plot of the movie does not call for the CIA, it only requires a foreign intelligence agency team operating in Paris. With Idris Elba born being a London native, Richard Madden born in Scotland and the rest of the actors mostly being English, MI6 would seem like the more logical choice. And if for some strange reason the producers just hate James Bond with a passion, and don’t want to be associated with him, why not pick some fun intelligence agency we haven’t heard much about? Let’s have Idris Elba faking an Israeli accent, pretending to be from Mossad. In fact, I made a short list of foreign intelligence agencies I’d rather have Idris Elba pretend to be a member of:
- Greiningardeild Ríkislögreglustjóra (GRLS). This is the National Security Agency of Iceland. They have a viking squad. I’m all up for Idris Elba being an Icelandic Secret Agent Viking
- Actually, on second thoughts, I can’t think of anything close to the Viking squad. Maybe Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces Intelligence? In any case, you get the idea.
Bastille Day is wonderful thriller, one of the best I’ve seen in years. But it could have been even better, and it wouldn’t have required more effort, it would have required less effort. They got it perfectly right in the French part of the movie, using authentic French actors and locations. Why couldn’t they do the same in the other half? That is something that just irks me to no end. But even so, this is a movie I can heartily recommend to anyone looking for a good thriller.