A blistering action thriller set in Paris, Bastille Day is a story of an unlikely pair – a reckless CIA agent and a brilliant pickpocket – who must work together to uncover and take down a conspiracy.
Michael Mason (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones) is an American pickpocket living in Paris who finds himself in the hands of the CIA when he steals a bag that contains more than just a wallet. Sean Briar (Idris Elba, Luther, Prometheus), the field agent on the case, soon realises that Michael is just a pawn in a much bigger game and is also his best asset to uncover a large-scale criminal conspiracy.
Going against commands, Briar recruits Michael to use his expert pickpocketing skills to help track down the source of the corruption. As a 24-hour thrill ride ensues, the odd couple discover they are both targets and must rely upon each other in order to take down a common enemy.
Bastille Day is directed by James Watkins (The Woman in Black, Eden Lake) and written by Andrew Baldwin, who has also written the as-yet-untitled Bourne sequel starring Jeremy Renner (rather than the Matt Damon film being released this summer).
The original idea for Bastille Day was pitched to Anonymous Content producers, David Kanter and Bard Dorros, by Baldwin, which became the basis for the film.
The pair recalled the first meeting with the screenwriter, "The original idea at the time when Andrew Baldwin first shared his inspiration for this was to create a movie that combined the taut action of the Bourne movies with the character-rich experiences of watching movies like Frantic and even The French Connection. We believed that a movie that honoured those iconic films would be commercially viable and be creatively exciting. Andrew’s underlying curiosity was to understand what these characters might be doing in Paris and to examine their motives and choices under intense pressure, but still take us on a thrill ride through a city that we all love.”
It was the film’s combination of high-octane action, mismatched central relationship and sly social engagement that appealed to director James Watkins, the British filmmaker who first came to international attention with his grippingly taut thriller Eden Lake about a couple whose romantic trip to the countryside goes terrifyingly wrong.
“Hitchcock is my hero and Bastille Day had a classic Hitchcockian thriller set-up in that it's about the wrong man being in the wrong place at the wrong time – Michael, the pickpocket, who picks the wrong pocket and is the catalyst for a sequence of events that get increasingly out of hand. I thought this harked back to the classic noir-ish thriller of the past such as Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street.”
“My last film (The Woman in Black) was all about going as slow as I dare. Here I saw an opportunity to tell a story at breathless, breakneck pace. The story recalled the muscular 70s thrillers that I love: shot on the streets, with new, lighter handheld cameras, giving the action a raw edge. I wanted to make a film that had the lean and mean quality of tension of Sidney Lumet and William Friedkin’s New York.
“Briar’s character – uncompromising, brutal, reckless – had shades of Popeye Doyle, Dirty Harry or Walker from John Boorman’s Point Blank. The notion of Idris Elba playing this role was irresistible to me,” adds Watkins.
“His combustible relationship with the streetwise Michael struck me immediately as the beating heart of the film and I liked the opportunities this relationship gave for lighter moments. It reminded me of the gruff, salty humour of early Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood collaborations or classics like Midnight Run and 48 Hours where the tone shift gears from gritty action to more playful moments whilst never breaking character.”
Taking the lead is Idris Elba as Sean Briar, a CIA operative who has been confined to a desk job in Paris after a mission in the Middle East went wrong.
The filmmakers were looking for “a combination of Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood,” says Kanter. “We wanted an actor with a moral code that feels organic to who they are. Somebody who projects a strong no bull vibe but is a real person underneath all that; someone who could carry the pain. There was a lot of discussion about how clearly we define Briar's past. I think we strike a balance in our storytelling about Briar clearly having been through something specific, without articulating it to a great extent.
“He had to be someone who you really believed would take matters into his own hands and was competent enough to sort it out. Idris is one of the few actors who has all those qualities and this was a film which would allow him to show them. He really had a sense of who this man is and who he could be. When a movie star responds from an emotional place, when it's a real connection with the material, you'd be a fool not to go on that journey with him.”
Watkins shared his enthusiasm to have Idris cast as Agent Sean Briar. “Briar is a CIA agent that has been out in the field for a long time but he's been demoted and sent to Paris to cool off after an assignment in the Middle East went wrong, leaving him with blood on his hands,” says director James Watkins.
“He really doesn't like being amongst these desk-jockeys and is desperate to get out on the street. He's the guy that gets things done but his methods may be a little bit rough. I really wanted a character that was a throwback to some of those classic really tough 1970s heroes. Idris has that real presence, that real physicality and you can read his thoughts in such a telling way. Briar is in that classic western loner tradition, like some of those cowboy heroes, and Idris really can carry that off. He can own the screen and is able to convey what it is he's thinking by doing very little.”
“There are very few actors of that calibre,” continues Watkins. “Michael Fassbender, Daniel Craig and Idris are among the few – they have the physical presence and the movie star presence, but they also have the real acting chops. It's obviously a skill that they've nurtured but it's also innate: it's that sense of truth and the sense of being able to register thought in a really cinematic way. It was such a pleasure watching Idris work; you can read the cogs turning in his head, in his eyes, in such a subtle way. It means you can dispense with so much unnecessary dialogue. For me, cinema is about reading what the characters are thinking, what's going on behind their eyes.”
Idris Elba has been championed by many as a perfect replacement for James Bond if Daniel Craig were to stand down and he is stunning in Bastille Day. It's an action-packed film but at its heart, there are characters that you care about and there's a very compelling storyline. We can recommend Bastille Day and we are sure the clamour for Elba as Bond will only grow louder now!
Bastille Day is at Showcase now