Bastille Day (15.)
Directed by James Watkins.
Starring Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Kelly Reilly, Eriq Ebouaney, José Garcia and David Georgiou. 92 mins.
There are already a number of arguments against Idris Elba being the next Bond and let's not pretend being black isn't one of them. More to the point though is that he is both black and not posh – ex-public school boys have taken every other prominent role in British society; it'd be churlish to deprive them of the one that they might genuinely be born to fill. Now Bastille Day arrives to add to the case that he is, as yet, only a moderately effective action hero. He's imposingly big, he can growl menacing and deliver his quips: but he's no Jason Statham.
In Bastille Day he is a CIA operative in Paris who teams up with a master pickpocket (Madden, ex-Game of Thrones) to thwart a bomb plot before the French national holiday. The plot is improbable, the interplay between the two leads is sometimes forced but the action scenes are swiftly edited and kinetic and the audience mostly seemed to enjoy it.
Of course it's not their fault this was screened the same week as the Brussels bomb attacks, but any film that includes bomb attacks in European capitals is making itself a hostage to fortune. Before the film started first the director, then the co-star, and eventually the star turned up on stage to introduce the film and assure us that this was nothing more than a fun Friday night movie, an homage to 70s buddy movies like 48 Hours (made in 1984.) Like policemen suggesting there's nothing to see here, the more they tried to assuage the more you wonder what was really going on.
This is an odd construction. First it's a film about Americans without any American actors in it. At one point a French eyewitness describes Elba as being a black man with an American accent, which means she has more acute hearing than me. Odd for a man who became famous in US TV drama The Wire. I guess this may be at least partly down to it including the CIA covertly spying on their French neighbours.
Why name a fun Friday night movie after a holiday commemorating a decisive day in the French Revolution? Because the film, which has a gang faking a terrorist bombing campaign to stir up racial tensions to provide cover for a bank robbery, is trying to slip in a sly little political message about modern inequality and the war on terror being used as smoke and mirrors to deflect attention from the real criminals, the bankers. The problem is that the plot has to make so many improbable twists to accommodate these points it detracts from the subversive fun. And the thing with subversive fun is that it has to be fun first, otherwise the subversion doesn't take.