Idris Elba is a bit of an acting curiosity.
He earns laudatory remarks from reviewers in any film he appears in. Yet he hasn’t found his true breakout role. He scores raves for lightly-seen fare (“Beasts of No Nation”), ensemble parts in popcore fare (“Star Trek Beyond”; “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) or unremarkable titles (“The Gunman”).
As an example of the latter, “The Take (2016) (Blu-ray + Digtial HD)” is one of those curiosities where a big name star appears in a bland title that springs up like a celluloid groundhog on the rental market. If you see Elba’s name but scratch your head as to why you never heard of this film, there is a reason.
“The Take” sports numerous European production companies. Studio Canal is the prominent shingle here. The formula is to sell off the foreign distribution rights first, use a large chunk of the proceeds to sign a named star, apply the rest as a modicum of the shooting budget and film in a discount European locale.
Lastly, the title is given a token theatrical rollout in North America (in this case 100 screens) so it can be marketed as an “American release” overseas.
“The Take” has Elba playing Sean Briar, a loose cannon CIA agent stationed in France. Called to the carpet for insubordination he is about to be reassigned when events unfold to draw him into a conspiracy.
An activist plots to place a bomb in a building to send a political message. However, the courier finds her bag with the explosives is lifted by Michael, an American professional pick-pocket played by Scottish actor Richard Madden.
Michael unwittingly sets off an explosion in the streets of Paris and soon becomes the target of Parisian police, Briar and his agency. The cat-and-mouse takes place on numerous levels with conspiracy layered in amid the action set pieces.
This is a capable thriller that is elevated by the gravitas Elba brings to the table. It is a light paradox, as he makes his scenes better, while the rest suffer by comparison.
FAST FACT: The original movie title for “The Take” was “Bastille Day.” The film’s overseas release date got bumped after the 2015 terror attack in Paris.
The interplay between Briar and Michael is organic, with Elba and the “Game of Thrones” co-star working well together. The intense agent chases and colludes with the pickpocket. The thief, in turn, is both overwhelmed by the activity swirling around him and streetwise confident when needed.
Possibly the biggest flaw is when the script is taking steps needed to provoke action and forward the story. Briar gets overtaken by agents, only because he elected to answer the door at a CIA safe house. Another time they barge in on a leftist group headquarters and a chase ensues when the activists get outside and firebomb Briar’s car.
These scenes ratchet up the tension and spur activity. They also unwittingly undermine the capabilities of Briar, who we need to buy to as a strong, capable agent. Once you’re able to overlook these pitfalls you’ll be carried along by this efficient thriller.
The key to all of it is Elba. He centers and elevates this content. You feel you’re in capable hands. This allows for you to sit back and enjoy a popcorn thriller without feeling guilty for getting lost in the action.
“The Take (2016) (Blu-ray + Digtial HD)” includes “Making ‘The Take'” – Elba and Madden discuss the characters and storyline at the center of the film.
Brad Slager is a freelance writer who has contributed to The Federalist, Breitbart News and Pop Matters. Follow him on Twitter at @MartiniShark