A young pickpocket and an unruly CIA agent team up on an anti-terrorist mission in France.
“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 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.
The Take is a fast-paced, brutal nightmare of attacks, agitation, and riots; no one is what they seem and even being on the same side is no guarantee of back-up. Sometimes it gets a bit silly but in the main it’s taut with realistically uncartoonish violence.
And in an act of unconscious serendipity I found myself watching this twist-filled film – 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.
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 (Stéphane Caillard) 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,. Mason is a small time 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 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 Bertrand, 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.
While The Take’s storyline isn’t particularly original, the performances are good. Elba is always compelling; Madden’s weaselly pickpocket is both shocked at what he’s got himself into and always looking out for himself. Some supporting characters are rather underused, though they help build a picture of smoke and mirrors. (Kelly Reilly plays Karen Dacre, a rather careworn senior CIA agent and Briar’s boss; this is the second time she’s been murdered in a film directed by James Watkins, after Eden Lake.)
The action sequences are frenzied and ferocious; an extended fightback in a transit van is exciting, brutal and urgent. A chase involving Briar and Mason, across higgledy piggledy Parisian rooftops is brilliantly riveting with every step a potential deathslip. While a spell of rioter-incitement in front of a solid police line comes across as too timid to be realistic, the final showdown, as rioters and crooks descend on France’s national bank, is clear and well-paced.
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Poor Karen Dacre (Reilly), senior CIA operative in Paris. She meets Victor Gamieux, the heads of French Intelligence, on a Paris rooftop. She tells him that he has a “terrorist conspiracy in the heart of the police force” – the bomb was made by an undercover cop and the mosque attack was a set-up. She tells him she has a witness (meaning Mason), who ia with one of their agents (Briar) and asks if he can get them into safe custody. They arrange for Gamieux’s men to pick the two up. Gamieux tells her “thank you for coming to me.” She is just starting to say “you owe me…” when he shoots her, killing her.
He calls Rafi Bertrand, a commander in RAPID, who is to take the three of them – Zoe, Mason and Briar – somewhere, then kill them. The rioters are to be put in place too – Bertrand arranges for the last hashtag (#attaquerlabanque) to be sent (“tell the nutcases where to go.”)
Zoe, Briar and Mason are picked up in a van; they’re suspicious but climb in. On the journey they realise what’s up. They fight and overcome their guards in the back of the van as it veers across roads, the original driver having been shot from the back during the struggle.
The hashtag spreads and demonstrators surround the national bank of France. Riot police are out in force. At a press conference, Gamieux says the minister has authorised him to go to security code five. An airborne RAPID force is going to come in and secure the bank from inside, with the police outside concentrating on crowd control.
Briar explains from the van to the head of the CIA Paris unit, that Karen is dead and RAPID are thieves, intent on stealing money from the bank. “It’s all about the distraction, right?” says Briar.
Briar tells Mason and Zoe he’s going in to the bank (dressed as a RAPID officer) because he hates thieves and they killed Karen Dacre. Mason asks who he’s going in with no back up and Briar tells him he, Briar, is “reckless and irresponsible”.
Inside, RAPID ignore the gold bars – they’re stealing $500 million dollars digitally. Briar is in a gunfight in the atrium. Zoe and Mason hear it in the van over the comms and incite the rioters to push forward beyond the police cordon.
In the atrium, Briar is hiding behind a desk, his ammunition gone; just as two RAPID operatives come round, guns pointing, the rioters break into the building. Briar gets to Bertrand but he escapes with the drive containing the money they’ve downloaded. On the phone Gamieux tells Bertrand to abort the plan and walk away; Bertrand says Gamieux needs to get him out of the country but Gamieux refuses.
Briar calls Mason and tells him to intercept Bertrand and get the hard drive. Mason pickpockets the drive so Bertrand takes Zoe hostage in the atrium, demanding the rioters to take off their masks. Mason stands up and takes his off, then holds up the flashdrive. Briar is coming up behind and grabs Bertrand, and the police open fire on Bertrand.
Amid the confusion, Mason walks out with the drive. Zoe helps up Briar, who has been shot in the arm.
TV news reports praise Gamieux for bringing down the corrupt circle of cops and state the “bomber” (Mason) is still at large.
Later, Mason meets Gamieux in Notre Dame cathedral, to talk about a deal for the drive. Gamieux gives him a new passport and offers him $100,000 cash and tickets to Brazil. He hands over drive. They go down to the vaults so Gamieux can give him the cash, but Gamieux threatens him with a gun and orders him into one of the vaults.
Briar appears and holds a gun to Gamieux’s head, who threatens to shoot Mason. Briar shoots Mason himself and police run in to arrest Gamieux.
Mason has been shot in the shoulder. He and Briar leave; Mason demands the flash drive back (and gets it!) He offers Mason a job cleaning the CIA’s cars and they walk off together…