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Film review: Bastille Day – Idris Elba plays action hero in anti-terrorist thriller

The British actor channels his inner Liam Neeson for this over-the-top action thriller that, despite the inane plot, is a fun watch in a turn-off-your-brain way

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:35pm

3/5 stars

A Paris-set terrorist movie, this action thriller imagining an anti-establishment plot ahead of France’s National Day – conceived before the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan and Nice – is a harmless genre exercise. If anything, the incredulous but entertaining shoot-’em-up by British director James Watkins (The Woman in Black) should be seen as Idris Elba’s audition for Bond, Bourne or, at least, the Liam Neeson school of angry ass-kicking. And he’s better than Gerard Butler.

Elba plays Sean Briar, a Paris-based CIA agent known simply for his recklessness. After an American pickpocket called Michael (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden) steals a bag from Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) – a terrorists’ mule with a conscience – and unwittingly sets off her ticking bomb in public, Briar tracks down Michael in a pursuit that includes an exhilarating chase across the city’s rooftops.

It’s just as well that the CIA is leaving the French intelligence out: everything turns out to be smokescreens for the French police to conspire and stage an audacious bank heist.

Yes, you read that right; and no, it didn’t make much sense to me, either. If Watkins has done anything well, however, it’s that he never pauses the action to consider the ridiculousness of it all. Alongside hit-and-miss attempts to scrap for real-life conviction (framing the Muslims as terrorists is hot; using hashtags to start a riot is plain silly), the pleasure of Bastille Day often resides in the delightfully awkward give-and-take between Elba and Madden, which I actually wouldn’t mind revisiting in possible sequels, though you’d get the longest of odds on there being any. It’s a fun mess.

Bastille Day opens on October 20

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