Bastille Day got a bad break when its original - and blindingly obvious - release date went by without unleashing the movie on the world. They’d completed shooting by the end of 2014 and quite why it wasn’t ready in the middle of 2015 is one of those things which half hearted googling won’t explain. But that’s only the most obvious way that it’s a work out of its obvious time. For one thing, as a buddy action movie with a loose cannon cop and a weaselly criminal sidekick battling a conspiracy of wicked authority figures, it belongs in the 1980s. For another thing, it oughtn’t to be a movie. When the opening credits came up, I saw that it was a co-production of Amazon Prime and Studio Canal, and I was sitting there thinking I could have watched the thing on my computer like any other TV show in this Amazon Prime and Netflix era; what the hell was I doing watching it in a cinema?
By the time the end credits came up, the case was closed; this would have made a great TV show. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it would have really worked as a six part TV drama, giving all the room Idris Elba’s glower needed to get its work done, and allowing the wicked authority figures more time to show a bit of nuance. France is naturally good at dodgy cops, and with enough room to breathe, they could have had a great time with the bad guys. Of course, that only holds good with all-French operations; I tried watching the weird Franco-Everyone co-production Jo a while back, and marvelled at how they’d simultaneously wasted Jean Reno and Paris to produce something that I took back out of the DVD player after episode one. So if they had gone for a mini series, it might have been really pants. Maybe I should be careful what I wish for.
For what they actually did, it was a real blast from the past. Crooked cops, weaselly supervisors, hero with impulse control problems, second banana who needs a father figure; pick a cliche, tick a cliche. The action takes your mind off it, and Idris can’t not be marvellous, so as long as he’s on the screen it all hangs together. And there are bits which are better than you’d dared to expect; there’s a rooftop chase which you know isn’t going to hurt anyone, but which is paced fast enough that you can’t remember that obvious problem until it’s finally over.
The one thing which might seem ripped from today’s headlines is that the big steal turns on using a riot for cover, and the riot is modelled pretty much on things like “Occupy!”. So near the end there’s a moment when Idris has gone in to clobber the bad guys all on his own, because he is the hero and of course he does, while the kids wait outside the edges of the riot fearing the worst. And then they mobilise the riot to help Idris out of a jam. I think it’s supposed to be inspiring that the crowd can overcome the police cordon - I almost liked the message that if one person runs forward it will inspire everyone else to follow - but this is stuck in the middle of the usual Hollywood message that you can’t trust big government, and only crooks and mavericks can ever get anything done, so I’m not seeing much potential to change the world, even by accident.
In other news, in a movie which is grabbing bits of 1980s classics all over the place, I liked the fact that when Idris finally had to break up an elaborate con aimed at hiding a bank robbery in the middle of an apparent terrorist outbreak, he grabbed himself an old school MP5, just like John McClane’s “Ho ho ho, now I have a machine gun.” No way that wasn’t a shout out when every other gun on screen was right up to the minute.