Film Review: The Take

Idris Elba is squandered by this drearily by-the-numbers terrorism-centric action thriller.
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Idris Elba is a magnetic dramatic actor whose intimidating stature and steely gaze also make him, in theory, a great candidate for action-cinema stardom (hence the constant rumors about him assuming the 007 mantle). It’s depressing, then, to find him slumming in The Take, a Luxembourgian, French and American co-production that was released abroad as Bastille Day because of its climax’s holiday setting, and a work of such crushing derivativeness that it’s hard to fathom why its leading man chose to participate in it. Elba casts a suitably menacing shadow while scowling, swearing, punching, kicking and shooting his way through this terrorist-heist saga, whose international premiere was twice delayed due to the 2015 Paris and 2016 Nice attacks. Yet his performance is in service of material that, regardless of its pretensions of hot-button timeliness, is unimaginative, retrograde pulp fit for the bargain bin.

Director James Watkins’ film opens with American pickpocket Michael (Richard Madden of “Game of Thrones”) using a naked woman to distract Parisian citizens as he lifts their wallets, watches and other valuables. His kleptomaniac ways get him into monumental trouble, however, when he subsequently steals Zoe’s (Charlotte Le Bon) bag, which contains a bomb she was supposed to set off in an empty office building, but chose not to upon discovering the location was full of cleaning staffers. When, shortly after Michael ditches the bag, the device detonates—killing four—he becomes wanted by both the French authorities and the CIA. Cue the entrance of Elba’s Sean Briar, an agent whose hackneyed badassery is spelled out in an initial meeting with his boss (Tom Luddy), who screams at him for being a renegade who refuses to play by the rules—an oh-so-familiar description that Briar happily accepts as true.

Briar hunts Michael, discovers he’s a petty crook caught up in a bigger plot, and then makes him his de facto sidekick on his standard-issue quest to find the real bad guys—whom The Take reveals, early on, are crooked cops planning to rob the national bank. Their scheme involves framing Muslims for terrorist bombings and then using Twitter to stir up anti-banker protests, yet Watkins’ film isn’t the least bit interested in such of-the-moment issues. Rather, in a manner similar to Fox’s hit TV show “24,” it introduces tense topical dynamics only as a means of misdirecting its audience. While there’s no reason to expect a sub-Die Hard venture such as this to dig deeply into Europe’s nationalist-immigrant dilemmas, it’s not too much to ask that it at least not treat those topics as just glib devices for spotted-from-a-mile-away surprises.

Watkins can stage a fight, and a prolonged scuffle inside the back of a police van shows that both he and Elba boast some capable slam-bang skills. The plot of The Take, though, is a lazily formulaic mess, synthesizing so many stock elements from thrillers of the past three decades that it never develops any distinctive personality—and would register as outright parody if it boasted even a faint sense of humor.

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