Bastille Day

Cast: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Eriq Ebouaney, José Garcia

Director: James Watkins

Writer: Andrew Baldwin


Given the tragedies that Paris has seen in recent months, an action-thriller featuring a terrorist plot in the French capital seems like the last kind of film that any studio would want to release. Bastille Day, which was filmed before either of the attacks on the Bataclan theatre or the Charlie Hebdo offices took place, seems to me to be more a victim of bad timing than anything. This film is at its core a silly but enjoyable action movie and shouldn’t be misconstrued as something it is not. While it may seem a little inappropriate to some, it is just too trivial and meaningless to be offensive. In a way the fact that it was released at all might even be a good thing. It signifies a refusal to be defeated by the tragic events that have befallen Paris and other places like it. While Bastille Day is not nearly smart or sophisticated enough to be anything more than a typical run-of-the-mill thriller, I’m still glad that I was able to watch and enjoy it.

A few days before the French national holiday of Bastille Day a con artist called Michael Mason (Richard Madden) stumbles into a crisis beyond anything he could have imagined when he steals and disposes of a bag containing a bomb. The bomb ends up detonating and killing four people, leading Michael to become a target for the CIA. Leading the investigation is Sean Briar (Idris Elba) who immediately tracks Michael down and takes him into custody following a chase over the rooftops of Paris. During the interrogation Michael manages to convince Sean that he is nothing more than a bystander who was in the wrong place at the wrong time stealing the wrong bag. Realising that he can use a man with Michael’s talents, Sean enlists him to help discover whether the intended explosion is part of a larger plot.

What saves this film from being a bore is that it contains two leads who work well together and who add much energy to the story. What holds it back from being a marvel is that the story itself is quite silly and the action isn’t particularly thrilling. There’s enough going on in this film to hold your attention for about 90 minutes (provided you’re willing to switch off your brain for that time) but certainly not enough to bring you back. The film tries to be socially relevant with its use of revolutionary hashtags and viral videos as the inspiration behind an attempted uprising against the government, an attempt that utterly fails when confronted with logical thinking and common sense. However things like logical thinking and common sense have no place in a film such as this which at its best thrives when you aren’t getting caught up in the implausibility or absurdity of the story. Admittedly overlooking such flaws would doubtless have been easier had the action been more impressive but what action they did have sufficed.

Luckily Idris Elba and Richard Madden are both there to liven things up. Even though they’re both British actors putting on American accents who sound like British actors putting on American accents, they share a chemistry that is most enjoyable to watch on screen. Elba’s character is effectively a simplified, less nuanced version of John Luther; a reckless, belligerent agent who plays by his own rules but who also gets results. It’s fun and all, just don’t expect to see Elba bring his A game. Madden plays a similarly standard character as a swift and nimble pickpocket who keeps getting himself into trouble but who is ultimately noble at heart. Hardly revelatory or groundbreaking stuff but it gets the job done. I enjoyed following these characters as they went about saving the day and they made what was otherwise a generic, run-of-the-mill movie fun and memorable.

A complex and challenging drama Bastille Day is not. It is far-fetched, clichéd and more or less by the numbers. Anyone who expects anything more is watching the wrong film and anyone who expects anything less will, I think, be pleasantly surprised. There is nothing in this film that you will not have seen in a dozen other thrillers, but Elba and Madden are both good enough that the film never quite feels banal or redundant. This is the kind of movie where you can happily switch your brain off for an hour and a half to enjoy some over the top action with a little bit of language and T&A mixed in. While knowledge of the attacks in Paris does inevitably have a dampening effect on this movie, Bastille Day should not be interpreted as any sort of commentary on the subject. It has neither the brains nor the inclination to be that kind of movie. It would be almost like viewing Commando as a representation of the United States Army. Just enjoy it for the trivial, nonsensical action movie that it is.

★★★

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The Walk

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne


Right after Philippe Petit walked the line between the Twin Towers, the question on everybody’s lips was ‘why’. Why would any man in his right mind attempt such a reckless and dangerous feat? Why would he go to such great lengths as to break the law and endanger his own life just to perform a stunt? Why did this matter to him so much that he was willing to risk everything to achieve it? In response he simply answered, “there is no ‘why’”. There are some things in life that are more than aspirations or ambitions; they are callings. Philippe himself may not quite know why he attempted this exploit (not in words at least); all he knew was that he had to. Through his story the film explores this idea of the impossible dream and the kind of dedication, faith and madness it takes to pursue it.

Philippe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a French street performer who first hears of the World Trade Centre while flipping through a magazine in a dentist’s waiting room. In that moment he is suddenly struck by inspiration and hereby makes it his mission in life to one day walk on a tightrope between the two tallest towers in the world. He recruits a team, including a street performer called Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), to fly to New York with him so that he might realise his goal before the construction of the towers is complete. Using the lessons and techniques taught to him by the circus performer Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), Philippe overcomes legal and personal obstacles to perform one of the most daring and insane deeds in recent history.

For the sake of full disclosure I should point out that I haven’t seen Man on Wire. Therefore this film marks my official introduction to Philippe’s remarkable story, and what an introduction it is. For me this is easily one of the best-directed films of the year so far and is also some of the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen in a film. When Philippe walks on that wire with the great void and chasm between the Twin Towers silently and ominously encircling him, you are right there with him. I was practically clutching the sides of my seat holding on for dear life as Philippe gracefully treaded the thin line that separated him from a fatal fall. The film’s climax is a terrifying, thrilling and astonishing piece of cinema that also captures a profound moment of beauty and poignancy. As Philippe stands on top of the world and realises the sums of his ambitions there is a deep sense of perspective as he comes to understand what this accomplishment really means to him. Philippe may not have known or was unable to explain his reasons for attempting this feat but whatever it was he was looking for, he found it.

As for the rest of the film, I really enjoyed it. One of the main criticisms I found amongst others was the film’s use of narration and its breaking of the fourth wall but, while I’d be lying if I said I didn’t at times find it annoying or distracting, I actually think it works for the film. Philippe as a character is passionate, animated, arrogant, eccentric and reckless. He is therefore exactly the kind of person who would break the fourth wall and who would narrate his own story. The narration can be overbearing at times, but Philippe himself can be overbearing at times as well. That’s why I think the film’s style of narration works well at establishing and defining his character. The performance of Gordon-Levitt also does a magnificent job in this regard. The zeal and enthusiasm he displays as Philippe is a lot of fun to watch and makes the character utterly irresistible. However the film does remain balanced in its view of Philippe, highlighting the irresponsibility, arrogance and madness driving his actions. Yet, while these traits are hardly his most admirable qualities, he probably couldn’t have achieved his dream without them. After all, you’d have to be some kind of crazy to even attempt a feat this irrational. It is an interesting character study of a wholly remarkable man.

It’s been over a week since I’ve seen this film and I still get a slight sense of vertigo just thinking about it. As a story the film is interesting enough, even if the supporting characters don’t get much focus or development, and I do think it is well told, even if the pacing is somewhat haphazard and the narration sometimes distracting. In the end though what really makes this film special is the actual walk itself. That is the moment when the film truly comes to life and flourishes on an immersive and breathtaking level. Watching Philippe walk the tightrope was one of the most astonishing cinematic experiences I’ve had this year and was worth the price of admission alone. Yet, as well as having one the most incredible scenes of the year, The Walk is also an engaging and entertaining tale of daring, conviction and aspiration and one that I would recommend to anybody (who isn’t acrophobic).

★★★★★