When British director James Watkins first burst onto the scene with his remarkable, indelible horror flick Eden Lake – starring Michael Fassbender – it marked the beginning of what could be a truly prosperous career in cinema. Following it up with the successful Woman in Black attested to that notion, and now deviating away from the genre he made his name in, it’s intriguing to see how he copes with his third endeavour, the action thriller Bastille Day. While previously thriving in innovation and ingenuity, his latest goes much the other way, as a cliched, hackneyed picture that does little to inspire, or impress.
Richard Madden plays Michael Mason, an accomplished pickpocket, surveying the streets of Paris and stealing whatever he can get his grubby hands on. When he sees the local Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) alone and crying, he takes the opportunity to steal her bag. What he hadn’t accounted for, however, is that inside was a bomb, and so when leaving the bag in a public area and witnessing it go off – killing innocent civilians in the process – he inadvertently became a terrorist, and as such, a target for CIA Agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba) – an unconventional law enforcer who is determined to solve this crime himself, going against the instructions of his boss, and digging deep into the corrupt ongoings within the French political system.
Though there is potential in this complex narrative, it grows to be so remarkably absurd; and while unrelenting in its approach, it is suffocated by its own inanity. More concerned at where the next one-liner is going to come from, this title feels like a product of late 90s gangster thrillers, tonally akin to Guy Ritchie’s work – but without that certain swagger. Thankfully that is provided, in parts, by Elba, who has such a palpable screen presence, as he boisterously fights his way through the streets of the French capital, but he’s been dealt with an all too cliched character creation in this instance.
The sheer absurdity of the film’s conviction, and the overstated execution that transpires, does have its benefits, for we’re dealing with a tremendously pertinent subject, as we explore the ramifications of a terrorist attack in Paris, while even delving into the implications this has on the Muslim community. But thankfully as Watkins’ endeavour thrives so predominantly in its theatricality and we veer so far away from realism, this ensures Bastille Day remains very much a piece of cinema, and identifying that line is rather important at present. Though while this may be considered as a mere piece of cinema, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a very good one.