Thursday, 26 May 2016

Bastille Day (2016) - Movie Review

If nothing else, Idris Elba exists to prove that having a rap career won’t kill off your acting career. Seriously, with how scrutinising the media can get and how equally atrocious some actors can be when they attempt singing, let alone rapping, the fact that he still has a cinematic leg to stand on is kind of miraculous. Or at least it would be if his acting chops didn’t downright demand that his place in the green room be secure. I mean, him being cast as the whitest of the Norse gods in the MCU is reason enough for him to garner some respect, as if his badassery is so high as to destroy racial barriers in its wake, but then there’s Pacific Rim where he gave the mother of all inspirational speeches as well as Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom where he imbued one of the greatest political prisoners of all time with all the pathos that the role deserved. So, naturally, I was looking forward to seeing him step back into the cat-and-mouse action scene. Is it going to be worth seeing even with him in mind, or am I setting myself up for another fall? Dear God, I hope it’s the former.

The plot: Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) was given a simple task: Go into an office building with a bomb and leave it there. However, she couldn’t bring herself to be a part of their plot and was unable to do it, especially when the bag that the bomb was in was swiped by small-time pickpocket Michael (Richard Madden). It doesn’t take long, though, before Michael finds himself embroiled in a terrorist scheme that could shake the entire city of Paris to its very foundations, and it’s up to standoffish CIA operative Sean Briar (Idris Elba) to put a stop to it.

In case my opening spiel didn’t clue you in enough on this point, I am going into this review with a certain bias. That being that I could just end it at “Idris Elba action film” and feel justified that that alone would sell this movie, at least from my own perspective. But I already have enough worry about with my slacking off of late and/or suffering possible burnout, so here I am to properly reiterate the point that Elba is stone-cold badass in this thing. I’ve seen opinions likening this to an attempt at showcasing Elba’s ability to be the new James Bond, and even if that isn’t the intention, it still makes a good case for it. Given how Daniel Craig is currently in 'not even if you paid me' mode when it comes to returning to the franchise (and really, after Spectre, I can’t say that I blame him), this film coming out when it did is rather fortunate. As much as I’d love to delve into possible conspiracies considering Elba and the Bond films, especially with how really well-timed all of this news is… actually, no, I wouldn’t. It’s just a waste of time.

Opposite him, Madden is playing the bystander who unwittingly gets himself dragged into the events and he probably plays the worst version of that setup. Outside of his sleight-of-hand tricks, as much as I love seeing them done well on film, he doesn’t really much of a presence in the film especially when standing next to Elba. Although, to be fair, his banter with Elba is decent. Le Bon gets given a triple punch of continual stress, guilt and grief and she manages to portray all of them expertly, even letting loose some revolutionary flair near the end. Kelly Reilly, after impressing me in Flight not that long ago, as one of the higher-ups in the CIA branch in France does alright in her minor role here, Thierry Godard is good as our main bad guy and Eriq Ebouaney as a fence left a surprisingly solid impression on me leaving the theatre.

Time to delve into something I haven’t really had much time to talk about in the last few months: The action beats. I mentioned a fair while ago that I’m not exactly the most articulate when describing what works and what doesn’t with these when it comes to certain films, so excuse the more skeletal approach of this paragraph. Director James Watkins is best known for directing thrills and horrors like Eden Lake and The Woman In Black, and that comfort zone of tension-driven set pieces translates surprisingly well into the action scenes of this film. He sets up a lot of the firefights, particularly the finale, with this need to emphasise the silence between gunshots. As a result, the action here works because of how it manages to keep catching the audience’s breath in their chests. Not that this is a quiet film by any means, but just that it works in that Jim Jarmusch mindset where the negative space has just as much importance as the positive space.

There’s also quite a bit of creativity that goes into the scenes themselves, like the coin-showering grenade or the well-choreographed rooftop chase or how the final confrontation makes use of the surrounding riots. As for the less violent forms of action, the film opens on full frontal nudity. I’d bring up how a distraction that blinking obvious would probably be a bad idea for a pickpocketing grift, but that’s why I’m not one of them. I like me some slick sleight-of-hand and we get a fair amount of that in this movie too.

A little over two months ago, we had another film that featured an American officer curb-stomping his way through a European country. Of course, that film was filled with so much racist bullshit that it nearly threw up a sea of Making America Great Again hats on the audience. As such, even with how boilerplate this film is, it had a lot more taste to it than what I’ve already been subjected to this year in terms of action scenes. In fact, if anything, this feels like the anti-London Has Fallen in the way it approaches its more racially-fuelled story elements. For one, this also has a plot involving crooked cops but it doesn’t snowball from there into paranoia about every resident of the home country. It has a certain Die Hard air to it in areas, but that doesn’t drag it down too far when it comes to the overall product. There’s also how the cultural relations between the U.S. and France are honestly trying to be kept on the up-and-up by the C.I.A. operatives, even though they kind of sweep the fact that their branch exists in France at all under the rug.

And then there’s the simple fact that this film actively uses the idea of racial prejudices… as a weapon, not a favourable character trait. I’m pretty uninformed when it comes to the political state of France, so I am likewise unaware if any of this has deeper significance beyond the surface references to French revolutionaries. However, the way that a large amount of the plot revolves around people directly focusing the misguided racism of others to help their goals shows that there was legitimate thought put into the circumstances of the setting. Maybe a little too much thought, as the plot ultimately can come across as a little unnecessarily intricate in order for the antagonists’ plan to work, not to mention taking place way too quickly. I know that social media has accelerated things a bit, but I doubt even #revolution would just spring up over the course of a couple of days. Nevertheless, this film’s script doesn’t just go on auto-pilot between fights, which would still be an improvement to something like LHF but is appreciated regardless.

All in all, it may be boilerplate but it’s still damn tasty boilerplate. The acting is mostly solid with Idris Elba just flexing his action credentials for the world to see, the action scenes are tense and very well-shot and the writing carries a political salience that, after the horrors experienced earlier this year, is very much appreciated. If you’re getting bored of Liam Neeson being in every recent action film ever, this might be your cup of tea. If you’re a fan of Idris Elba, then you’re probably beyond me recommending this and probably already have gotten your ticket for it.

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