While realistically, we may not ever see Idris Elba becoming James Bond in the near future, Bastille Day puts him in the action-spy role in Paris. Albeit an American CIA agent with a bit more grit and less glamour than James bond. I came in expecting a mid-tier, generic pre-summer action-thriller, but was pleasantly surprised by it.
When it comes to espionage action thrillers, it’s nearly impossible by now to set up a completely new premise that has never been seen before. But Bastille Day gives us an fairly interesting plot where a pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden a.k.a. Robb Stark from Game of Thrones) stole a bag which turns out to be a bomb. It explodes, killing four people and he inevitably becomes the prime suspect. Idris Elba is CIA agent Sean Briar who is tasked to find and protect him from the real terrorists behind the plot.
The story moves forward at a brisk pace with good action scenes. Elba proves that he’s more than capable of being an action star, taking down bad guys Bourne-style. Anyone who is familiar with his previous work already knows he’s a good actor, but unfortunately the story doesn’t seem to allow him to show any of this off. There aren’t many character moments for anyone in this movie.
That might be my main complaints about the movie, though competent as it is as a spy thriller. There is hardly any character development happening in the movie. The movie establishes a few basic facts about Elba’s Briar, being `brash and irresponsible’, and that’s about it. It sets him up to be sort of a loose cannon and acting against orders while on the streets of Paris. Never do we really know him as a person, or get invested in him as a character. Briar’s character is mostly blank, as if to accommodate the audience to project themselves into the action movie role. He does not have much motivation throughout the movie aside from preventing a terrorist attack, which feels almost like an arbitrary mission objective for a video game, and Briar being a video game protagonist without personality.
The pickpocket Mason does get a bit of a backstory, which for his case is absolutely necessary since he is the focal point of the entire story. Though he mostly did a good job portraying a scared, young crook that’s in way over his head in the terrorist/spy intrigue, again I don’t really feel invested in that character either. He doesn’t even show that much guilt or regret after causing an explosion that killed four innocent people. In fact, he seems to only care about himself, and doesn’t really bond with Briar throughout the movie. (Not that the plot gave them any breathing room to do so.)
Perhaps the one character that has some semblance of an arc is Zoe Naville (Charlotte La Bon). She’s an activist who was manipulated by the terrorist to deliver the bomb that was eventually stolen by Mason, and she’s the one showing guilt over causing the death of those four people. As the story progresses we understand her actions and reactions to various events in the movie. So, she seems to be the only person whom we understand the character motivation at a deeper level than simply functioning to drive the plot.
Perhaps one might wonder about the sensitivity of a plot which involves a bombing in Paris, given the recent events in real life. At least the villains in this story aren’t stereotypical Muslims or people from Middle-East. But rather very specific characters with their own agenda which has nothing to do with real-world events. Nevertheless they do dip into subplots about how Muslim communities are targeted by the police after the bombing, and how citizens star to protest police brutality. These are used as a backdrop and a plot point, and the film doesn’t seem to want to make any significant commentary out of it.
It’s starting to sound like I didn’t like the movie, when I really did enjoy it. After all, this is a fairly straightforward action movie that doesn’t have a blockbuster-level budget. The plot and action scenes are executed fairly well, which is all I wanted for a straight-up action movie. To put this into perspective, I found this movie much more enjoyable than other mid-range action thrillers, like Tak3n, November Man and Survivor.