Feature: Bastille Day

A blistering action thriller set in the French capital, Paris, this is the 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 hunted by 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 conspiracy.

Going against commands, Briar recruits Michael to use his expert pickpocketing skills to help quickly track down the source of the corruption. As a 24hr thrill ride ensues, the unlikely duo discover they are both targets and must rely upon each other in order to take down a common enemy.
“The original idea at the time when ANDREW BALDWIN first shared his inspiration for this movie 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.” say producers DAVID KANTER and BARD DORROS.

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.

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.’

The twisting and turning nature of the three protagonists’ relationship was a key element for Watkins. “Michael, Zoe and Briar are all very ambivalent, morally ambiguous characters,” he explains.” Zoe was going to plant a bomb; Briar’s methodology is questionable – he’s violent and he’s aggressive; and Michael is, to use Briar’s words, “a parasite” who steals bags and watches and wallets. They’re all troubled, and sometimes morally troubled, but despite that, they are likeable. They’re not bad people, they’re just complicated.”

Kanter also points out that it’s the way the characters have been developed that makes Bastille Day special. The characters are not conventional heroes; rather, they are all flawed and forced by circumstance to discover who they really are. One key to the success of the film is that they are believable and realistic. “It feels like a movie from the 1970s, where the characters are all carrying something heavy in their psyches. They are thrown together by fate and come to realize that the bombing isn’t what it appears to be, so they are forced to depend on each other.”

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