The Movie Buffer

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Banlieue 13 (District B13)


Cette revue contient des indices de l’histoire et peut gâcher votre expérience cinématographique. (Small spoilers within)

edit: to the french readers sorry for the mistakes!

This movie is in French and it has subtitles! The theatres are doing everything they can to tell viewers that this movie is in French short of raising a French flag and playing the national anthem of France.


District B13, also known as, District 13 and The 13th District, is a movie that was poorly advertised and thus not very recognizable when heading to the theatre. Though you have probably haven’t heard much about this film it would be a shame if you missed out on this great foreign action film. The movie was made in France, by first time director Pierre Morel, and Luc Besson, the producer of The Transporter films and Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior.

In an action film the key to the directing is keeping the story's pace matched with the up-tempo action scenes. Where some directors flounder, Morel deftly progresses the story, develops his characters and builds some reality into his film (all with only a small amount of time available). There was a clear secondary design in this movie to highlight the extreme sport of parkour, which is a time-based obstacle course running in an urban setting, not to be mistaken for free running which emphasizes style and artistic flourishes, like The Fast and the Furious did for the world of street racing. This movie revolves around two characters, Leito, a resident of district B13, who is trying to reform his crime hardened neighborhood into a respectable part of the city, and Damien, a by the book cop that is trying to recover a bomb that was hijacked from it’s convoy through the district. In order to infiltrate the crime syndicate’s headquarters in B13, Damien recruits Leito as a partner and then action begins. Both of these men are superb traceurs, participants in parkour, and they narrowly escape capture several times using their skills. Out of the 103 minutes of this film I would estimate that only about 20 minutes of the movie was non-action dialogue, otherwise the two heroes were jumping from rooftop to roof top, sneaking through underground tunnels and fighting the gangsters with a mix of Capoeira and Muy Thai.

Since there was little time for character development and dialogue the actors do the best they can, with lots of intense facial expressions with close ups and acrobatics to highlight their real skills as traceurs. This film is of the same school as Ong-Bak, no wires and minimal special effects, so everything looks clean and real. Cyril Raffaelli, Damien, and David Belle, Leito, both play their characters well and you really root for themby the end of the movie. The pretty face in this film is Dany Verissimo, who plays Leito’s little sister Lola, and she does a great job. Not only is she very cute, she’s got some sass and she knows how to deal with Mexican standoff situations.

With all action films, the story does suffer with no time to develop or come to a conclusion without the use of a few flights of fancy. There are several clichés that build up over the course of the film and a foreshadowed ending leaves the story resolved but not explained. There are a few continuity errors but not obvious enough to mention save the computer panel swap at the end of the movie.

This movie was a fun ride through a story that’s been done before but had enough fresh perspective to keep it interesting. District B13 gets a 7/10 or 3 out of 5 stars because it was great to watch, there wasn’t a dull moment, and even though the movie was French the comedy translated very well. Though there were a few mistakes, it was a thoroughly enjoyable action movie.


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