“Are you in love?… Are you writing a novel?… THEN WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING IN PARIS?” CIA man Sean Briar (Idris Elba) subverts the cliches as he interrogates – and not in a softly softly way – accidental terrorist Michael Mason (Richard Madden).
Briar is described as “reckless, insubordinate and irresponsible”, and that’s by the people who actually like him. Now that’s a cliche of course, the maverick spy, though Elba is so watchable that bar the odd line of clunky dialogue it doesn’t feel that way. Mason is in reality not a bomber but a skilled if small-fry pickpocket from Vegas.
In an act of unconscious serendipity I found myself watching the twist-filled The Take – original title Bastille Day – on Bastille Day. I don’t know why they changed the title, and if they were going to they should’ve called it something interesting like An American Pickpocket In Paris.
Then again changing the name of a film that is all about distraction – from something explanatory to something that could mean anything – is rather meta in itself.
And it is about distraction, tricking people into looking elsewhere so they miss the real action, and into accepting the wrong reasons.
Usually in chase-and-shoot-oh-god-I’ve-missed-again films I have no idea what’s going on, but here I was only confused for the middle 30 minutes (thank goodness no one was speaking French or I’d have been even more befuddled) and it turned out I was meant to be. Once the smoke cleared – literally – everything slotted nicely into place.
A beautiful naked woman sashays through the crowds down some steps one dark evening, grabbing not just our attention but those around her as whistles fills the air. Everyone’s looking at her, whether with delight, shock, laughter at her audaciousness, or simple lust. But everything has a cost. As she descends the steps, perfect body wiggling, hair cascading over her shoulders and a smile on her face, Mason is stealing tourist passports and Rolexes (probably not camera phones though). Later, gorgeous, naked Beatrice gets 300 Euros for being the perfect distraction, before he distracts her, jumps off their Metro rendezvous and disappears into the crowd.
Mason takes his stashes of stolen-to-order Japanese passports to Baba in a back office in a back lane somewhere in Paris. But he’s wise to every trick as he uses so many himself – when Baba offers him Lacoste shirts as part-payment he refuses: “your crocodiles are sewn on backwards” he says.
Meanwhile Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon), idealistic but not wanting to hurt anyone – so perfect fodder for terrorists who don’t want to get hurt themselves – has got a bomb in her bag. It’s meant only to scare not harm, but the cleaners are unexpectedly still in the target building so she runs, still carrying her payload. But while she is distracted and nervy, Mason steals the bag it’s in, discards it, then walks away just before it explodes on the square, killing four innocent people. Then there’s a recorded message to the police from the bombmakers, that in 36 hours – on Bastille Day – they will bring Paris to its knees.
He may be a great pickpocket but Mason is a rubbish terrorist and is soon brought in, though not until he’s been pursued by Briar across higgledy piggledy Parisian rooftops in a genuinely brilliant and gripping chase sequence where every step is a potential deathslip. Mason is a small time weaselly-faced crook, “just like his dad – always running away from something, mostly himself” according to mom – and once he’s been caught he’s believably, consistently shocked by the reality of terrorism and what he’s inadvertently got himself caught up in.
Soon everyone is after everyone else. The CIA and Briar think Mason is a terrorist bomber, the team behind the bomb are trying to kill Zoe for flaking out on them, there are double crossings galore, framings, undercover police and best of all for lost 90s kids like me, Black Grape’s Reverend Black Grape plays in the background.
But it’s not just the anarchists who are angry (anarchists are always angry) – the police are fuming too, as they’ve given their all to the city: “we risk our lives every day for this city to end up in a wheelchair shitting into a bag until we die” says police commander Rafi, controlling a furious group of officers who feel they’ve been abandoned.
Bomb making equipment is found in a mosque and tensions rise as the RAPID special police unit goes in. Activists on social media are rabble-rousing, but who knows if anyone is who they say they are online? I’m a super-sorted, Boden-wearing uber-mummy when I hit Facebook.
The Take is a fast-paced, brutal nightmare of attacks, agitation, and riots, as everyone chases everyone else and no one is what they seem. Sometimes it gets a bit silly but in the main it’s taut with realistically uncartoonish violence.
I wouldn’t say it’s a gag fest but to make up for it the performances, from Elba and Le Bon particularly, are very good. Some supporting characters are rather underused, though they help build a picture of smoke and mirrors. Victor Gamieux (Jose Garcia) the head of homeland security, and and Karen Dacre (Kelly Reilly) a rather careworn CIA agent and Briar’s boss, have small but important roles.
And I’m not going to spoiler, but… James Watkins I know you like directing Reilly but next time can she just work in a donut shop or raise fluffy orphaned lambs?