When an unlikely American pickpocket in Paris, Michael (Game Of Thrones’ ill-fated King In The North, Richard Madden), steals the bag belonging to Parisienne gamine Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) he gets more than just her iPhone and an incongruous teddy bear. Pocketing the phone and ditching bag and bear, Michael narrowly cheats death and soon finds himself the most wanted man in France. The bear was full of Semtex and student activist turned reluctant bomber Zoe had just had a change of heart, chickening out of bombing the National Front headquarters, she was on her way to ditch the bomb in the Seine when Michael stole her bag, inadvertently causing the deaths of four people in the run-up to the titular French national holiday.

Friendless and on the run, Michael is framed as a terrorist as the heavy-handed French authorities use the incident as an excuse to crack down on Muslims and students. Enter “reckless, insubordinate and irresponsible when it comes to the lives of human assets” maverick CIA agent Sean Briar (Idris Elba) who soon nabs Michael and is in the middle of interrogating him in a CIA safe house when the real bombers, a gang of dirty Parisian anti-terror cops led by the icy-eyed Rafi (Thierry Goddard), kick in the door and try and kill them, having tracked them using Zoe’s stolen phone.

Stirring up discontent and rioting with a fake terrorist bombing as cover, Rafi and his men are about to pull of the heist of the century and they’re tying up loose ends. Battering seven shades out of the attackers before escaping, Briar realises there’s more going on than meets the eye and teams up with Michael to track down Zoe before Rafi and his men can silence her. But as tension and violence spills onto the streets threatening the Bastille Day celebrations, can Briar and Michael save the girl and stop the bad guys? Is there any doubt?

Ridiculously enjoyable and far better than it has a right to be director James Watkins’ Bastille Day could teach it’s bigger budget, bloated Hollywood rivals a thing or six about action cinema. Lean, mean and pared to the bone, there’s not an ounce of fat on this relentlessly propulsive film that hits the ground running and never lets up for 90-odd breathless minutes as Elba, looking like he was carved at Easter Island shoulders his way through the streets of Paris like a younger, fitter, cooler Liam Neeson, punching and shooting foreigners in the face while trading tough guy banter with the almost puppyish Madden.

They’re an engaging pair and the chemistry between them crackles naturally as they verbally spar, the interrogation scene a particular highlight, Elba looming over the bound and cringing Madden growling “Innocent men don’t run!” to which Madden squeaks in reply “Have you seen you?” Very much the junior partner of the bromance, Madden shines in the film’s smooth, elegantly constructed pickpocket scenes employing sleight of hand and distraction to his advantage as he filches wallets, watches, information and billion dollar data sticks with ease, Watkins shooting these scenes with a balletic grace that’s refreshingly absent from Bastille Day’s bruising punch-ups and sudden explosions of bloody violence, a close quarters fight in the back of a runaway police van giving Bourne a run for his money, a bloody gun battle erupting in the midst of a botched bank heist during a riot while a chase across the rooftops of the Pigalle eschews the pulse–pounding thrills of Parkour in favour of more visceral, old-school vertigo inducing nausea.

Cool, but not nearly cool enough to get away with Idris crooning the song over the end credits, Bastille Day’s solidly enjoyable 4 out of 5 loses half a point just for that.

Movie Review: Bastille Day
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