From the outset, I would just like to say the main reason I’m writing this review is because I want to describe one of the actors in Bastille Day, José Garcia, as the ‘French Robert Downey Jr.’ – because it’s an uncanny likeness and most articles I produce hinge upon these tiny, mostly insignificant observations.
Seriously, look at him…
I would happily pay big money to see an Iron Man 4 where Tony Stark ends up in an alternate universe to find all the Marvel superheroes are actually French, including Homme de Fer (Antoine Starque) and Capitaine France (Stefan Rogeres). Mr. Feig, feel free to get in touch.
Then there’s the issue of the film, which doesn’t give me nearly as much to write about…
The plot revolves around Richard Madden’s Michael Mason, an American pickpocket in Paris, who unknowingly steals and then dumps a bag containing a bomb intended to blow up a governmental building on… you guessed it, Independence, Mother’s Bastille Day. Naturally assuming he’s the bomber, the CIA sends Idris Elba’s Sean Briar after him… but the real plotters are also on his case.
It sounds like an intriguing plot and it’s a shame that’s all there is to Bastille Day. Character depth is treated as fat that must be trimmed. If the film were an animal, it would be a starved greyhound, zooming to the finish line with blistering speed chasing after a mechanical rabbit. We know Mason is a good pickpocket because we see him in action once and because he says he’s the best. We know his backstory because Briar lays out this exposition by reading out to Mason his own background report. We know who Sean Briar is because another character reads out Briar’s file to Briar himself!
This is the inherent flaw of the film: there are two main characters and their characterisation is literally (yes literally) paper-thin. We have no clue as to what drives Briar to go against the orders of his superior and pursue the investigation on his own. He just grunts occasionally and reminds everyone of the stakes at hand. We also have no idea what Mason is using his pickpocketed money for. We don’t know anything about them and very quickly we stop caring.
The rest of the cast has it even worse. Kelly Reilly’s CIA station chief is there until she is not. The French Robert Downey Jr is
Homme de Fer the Intelligence chief until the film ends. There are no arcs, nothing is learnt, nothing is changed.
Hilariously though, the bad guys’ plan relies almost entirely on a ridiculous social media strategy and they utter lines like, “Now the hashtags will push them over the edge” and, “Release the last hashtag!” I wonder if when the evil terrorists concocted their plan they realised, “We need to hire a professional social media manager! Jacques, put out a job ad. Must have experience with hashtags – especially ones released in tranches and with gradually more impact! Must also know how to run Twitter Polls.”
The one thing Bastille Day has going for it are the action sequences, especially the very first one, which involves a rooftop chase containing POV shots that feel quite intense and natural. But too often it feels hollow because we simply do not care about the characters. Take Die Hard for example. When John McLane breaks a German terrorist’s neck, dresses him up as Santa Clause and writes ‘Now I have a machine-gun HO HO HO’ we laugh out loud, not because he’s sticking it to the terrorists, but because the film has laid these foundations for the character beforehand and we see where the twisted humour comes from. We understand John. When Briar breaks someone’s leg, or finds a violent way to use gold coins, we don’t know his thought processes; we don’t know if he finds his violent acts amusing or depressing. He just does them because the film needs him to do so and then swiftly moves on.
So I guess even the one positive from the film isn’t really that much of a positive. I feel it’s imperative to end on a good point though…
Seriously, it’s uncanny!