Bastille Day Review

Just before the big summer blockbusters come out in cinemas, I decided it would be time to catch up on the backlog of films that I missed the first time around. Bastille Day had been I film I thought looked interesting, but it was slowly pushed back and back more by other, newer films. But I finally went and now the review.

Bastille Day stars Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon and Kelly Reilly and is directed by James Watkins. After a bomb accidently stolen by a pick-pocket (Madden) goes off in the middle of Paris, Briar (Elba), a CIA operative has to find the real terrorists while Paris is on the verge of revolution.

After seeing the trailer for Bastille Day, I thought this might be Idris Elba’s audition for James Bond. Everyone and their dog seem to want him to play the part and this could have shown how he deals with action. Sadly the Bond film he’s imitating is Quantum Of Solace. Crunching sound effects accompany 0.6 second-long takes, tricking our brain into believing we are seeing fighting while all we’re seeing is bodies and fists flying about.

The rest of the action is pretty standard affair. While there is a really well done chase scene over the rooftops, similar to the Tangiers chase in The Bourne Ultimatum and a layered pick-pocketing sequence both at the beginning and in the middle of the film, there is not much else. There is a big gun battle at the end between Elba and the main bad guys, but none of it has much flair. It’s all been done better before.

Briar is a “loose cannon” operative, the kind of guy who sticks his gun in the mouth of an unarmed civilian, punches men off moving motorcycles and doesn’t use door handles, instead kicking every single one down. It’s more Jack Bauer than James Bond, but apart from his fascination with caving men’s skulls in, Elba doesn’t give him any other interesting personality traits, just a terrible American accent. He also sings over the end credits, make of that what you will.

Elba being a shell of character though might be down to the script. It switches from boring to unintentionally hilarious. Some story aspects are fun, Richard Madden’s pickpocket has some good lines as he warms to working with Elba, but most of its forgettable. But there are lines that we are meant to take serious, such as, “the hashtags are spilling over…follow the hashtags…send the final hashtag.” Why try to make believable characterisation when we could just talk about what’s trending on Twitter?

While the film is set in the French capital, it doesn’t use the setting to great effect. The opening of the film, a street party at Sacré Coeur and the finale at the French National Bank are good uses of the setting, the rest of the film is in back alleys and run-down apartments. Similar to last year’s The Gunman, it’s a sad waste of a good setting.

The film is full of these moments, brushing shoulders with ideas that have been done better before. There is a shadowy conspiracy in Bastille Day about government paramilitaries being involved with the destruction which would have been good…if White House Down hadn’t done it better back in 2013. Bastille Day also takes the politicising of White House Down and tries to do its own version of it. It’s trying to put some subtext into the story events but the rest of the film is too on-the-nose to successfully have a subtle thread running through it.

Bastille Day could have been, if not great, at least entertaining. It’s not as sharp as Bond or as gritty as Bourne, instead it’s trying to take what it can from everything else without making an identity of its own.

Score: 4/10 Painfully dull and lifeless.

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The Man From U.N.C.L.E Review

I love James Bond. I know it might sound a bit weird to open a non-James Bond film like that but hear me out. While I am a fan of Daniel Craig’s interpretation and modern portrayal of Ian Fleming’s famous character, I still harken for the days of Connery and Lazenby, with the Cold War being the backdrop for their spying escapades. Does The Man From U.N.C.L.E. give fans like me a new spy-related alternative?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E stars Henry Cavill, Arnie Harmer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant and Jared Harris with Guy Ritchie both directing and writing. Based off the hugely successful TV show of the same name, the plot follows CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) teaming up with KGB agent Illya Kuriakin (Harmer) to thwart a rogue faction from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Firstly the film looks gorgeous. Guy Ritchie knows how to operate a camera better than most directors working today, and the camerawork has a very old-skool vibe about it, strengthening the idea that this is a throwback to the early Bond adventures. After the dark streets of East Berlin, the films swiftly moves to Rome, with the sets having a glow around them, making it look and feel like a film that would have starred Audrey Hepburn if it had been made half a century ago. The movement of the camera is also worthy of praise for the making the film look as good as it is. The camera moves around effortlessly, soaking in the beautiful surroundings throughout the film and then the Ken Adam inspired sets near the middle of the film. The camera moves at just enough of a slow pace to let us appreciate the craft with which the film was made.

To focus on the actors, nearly everyone here is on top performance. Our two main leads, Cavill and Harmer are polar opposites of each other, with Cavill being the ever lovable rogue and Harmer the quiet and psychotic Russian who looks like he’s going to blow up at any point. The two actors bounce perfectly off each other, with some of the funniest parts of dialogue coming from their two different approaches to spying for their respective countries. The majority of the jokes coming from this dissonance between the two, including a hilarious sequence near the middle of the film that I won’t spoil here. Hugh Grant is his usual quintessential British self, with only Alicia Vikander turning in a sometimes wooden and emotionless performance.

Despite the aforementioned hilarious sequences, the gags aren’t always up to scratch. The jokes don’t always fall the right way leading to these awkward pauses during the film where they thought the audience was going to laugh. They happen periodically throughout the film, including a segment where Kuriakin is trying to show off his cover story to Vikander’s character, Gaby. It just feels a bit forced when the films is trying to push the jokes in where they have no weight to them, feeling like fluff to pass the time.

The fight scenes in the film are similar to the jokes in that there can be a huge divide in quality. While some fight scenes, including an early one between our two leads can have a nice Paul Greengrass-handheld camera look to them as well as getting to see some of Kuriakin’s Spock-like super attacks, most of the other fight scenes just devolve into quick cut close-ups of hands and bodies flying around, ending with most of the bad guys on the floor.

The main problem that I found with the film however is the bad guys. While we get an expository sequence at the beginning detailing who these people are and their actions, they never really have a powerful presence on screen or off it either. They just seem to be shells for our heroes to focus on. Their comeuppance at the end of the film feels very anti-climatic and it feels as if the writers realised they had a few too many loose ends at the end of the film and needed to quickly tie them all up before the credits.

In conclusion, The Man From U.N.C.L.E is a beautiful old world style spy film, filled with all the fun of an early James Bond film. And with an end credit sequence that hints at a promising new film franchise, it could be that Bond won’t be the only spy that the cinema adores.

Score: 8/10 A fun romp into the golden age of spies.