When this thriller was released in cinemas in April it went by the title of Bastille Day, but its story of bombings and racial riots on the streets of Paris became uncomfortably close to subsequent real life atrocities in France and it was even pulled from theatres after the Nice attacks in July. The home media release of the film was delayed and a new title, The Take, applied – all of which is really very unfortunate. Not only does that change cut the DVD release off from any positive word-of-mouth it might have garnered during its box office run, it also leaves it with a dull and unmemorable new name that makes it look like every other bit of sub-standard direct-to-video fare out there. Which is really rather unfair.
True, this French/Luxembourg co-production is no big blockbuster movie or quality indie film: it’s a straightforward, stripped down all-action affair with no frills or pretentions. The story is simple: Zoe Neville (Charlotte Le Bon) is manipulated into planting a bomb, the bag it’s in is stolen by unwitting American pickpocket Michael Mason. When the bomb subsequently explodes in the street and kills four bystanders it’s therefore Mason who becomes the focus of a terrorist manhunt across Paris. He’s finally hunted down by CIA operative Sean Briar (Idris Elba), and the two then have to track down Zoe to find out who is really behind the plot even as the bombings lead to increasing civil unrest and chaos on the streets – which it turns out is just what the perpetrators were after after all along.
There’s a dash of Die Hard to the proceedings in that an apparent terrorist campaign is really just a distraction for something altogether more venal. The film also has a certain sense of the Bourne films in that the focus is kept on the hard-hitting action which is captured by some visceral in-your-face hand-held cinematography. The story – co-written with Andrew Baldwin by the director James Watkins (The Woman in Black) – doesn’t have the ambition or depth of the core Bourne films of course, but it does manage to be almost entirely coherent and believable which is more than can be said for most films of this genre. That said, the late ‘shock twist’ is rather telegraphed and easily guessable and the film’s use of hashtags rather embarrassingly overestimates the power of Twitter in any given real world situation.
One of the best things about the film is that everyone involved is rather good at their respective jobs – even Mason, who in addition to his light fingers shows great tactical awareness in how he gets an important piece of information from a bartender without being caught. The bad guys are actually even better organised, trained and skilled than our heroes, so the plot doesn’t require anyone to be painfully bone-headed or make a howling error simply in order to progress the narrative.
In addition to some inventively staged and effective action set pieces (the chase across the rooftops, a fight in the back of a passenger van, a stand-off at the bank), the film’s main asset is its star – Luther’s Idris Elba. Not only is he perfectly capable of taking on the burden of carrying this film on his shoulders, he does it so effortlessly that you feel he could easily cope with adding a couple of dozen more to the load. His character is hardly original – he’s the maverick type of CIA agent who bends the rules, ignores orders and is on his final warning before being kicked out, you know the sort; and at the start of the film he’s just an expressionless Terminator-style fighting force. However Elba’s charm soon bubbles up and he becomes much more personable displaying an assured light touch of deadpan black humour and occasional moments of humanity without ever breaking the sense of a hard veneer of ruthless professionalism.
Most of the more human moments are brought out by his interactions with co-star Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, Cinderella.) Madden contributes a lot of the humour to the film and his interactions with Elba have the freshness of improvisation; he’s also very good at conveying just how vulnerable and out-of-his-depth Mason is in the situation he suddenly finds himself in. Despite both of them being saddled with generic American accents, Elba and Madden make a likeable and believable odd couple and the film gives them enough space to develop their relationship in between the gun fights, punch-ups and car chases. The fact you want to spend more time in their company is a sure sign that at least half of the movie’s work is done, and well done at that.
At the end of the day The Take is still just an action thriller and little more, and the dividing line between it and the stacks of aforementioned direct-to-DVD and TV movie fodder is very thin. But on all levels it’s executed much better than most such films, and is divertingly entertaining and certainly worth a brisk 90 minutes of anyone’s time as a result.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
The Take (formerly Bastille Day) is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK. The lacklustre DVD contains just a couple of short filmed interviews, one with the two stars and the other with the director but is perfectly fine picture- and sound-wise. The film opens in cinemas in the US on November 18 2016.