District B13 [Banlieue 13]
by Del Harvey
Loosely based upon recent events involving emigrants in the Paris suburbs, B13 is part Jackie Chan and all fun.
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The time is four whole years in the future. Paris’ crime problem has become so bad in certain areas of the city that the good citizens have empowered the politicians to do whatever is necessary to deal with the problem. Their response, push all the bad elements into the worst part of town and erect a great wall to keep them in. Sound like an episode of HBO’s The Wire? Or maybe a twisted version of Escape from New York? Well, it is some of each of those. And a whole lot more.
The film begins with one of the toughest gangs showing up on the doorstep of one of the locals, a young man born and bred in the district named Leito (David Belle). Leito has stolen several dozen kilos of drugs from Taha, the local kingpin. At the moment, he’s flushing them down the bathtub. His posse, a couple of locals who believe in doing what they can to preserve the good in the neighborhood as much as Leito does, stand up to Taha’s thugs, led by the physical presence of one ‘K2’ (Tony D’Amario), who is a cross between a double-wide and a refrigerator on steroids. Of course, Leito’s neighbors are no match for K2 and the rest of Taha’s men. Soon Leito is running for his life in a long sequence of incredible stunts which rival only Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow at their best for their combination of ballet and acrobatics. Leito is like a human Spider-man, leaping and hopping up and down stairwells, out windows, and from rooftop to rooftop. He manages to harm or wound a half dozen of Taha’s men, including sending several to immense pain as they fall from these same rooftops.
When Taha finds out about this one man army decimating his crack gangsta thugs, he sends K2 and company out to kidnap Leito’s sister, Lola. No sooner do K2 and his boys return with the girl than Leito shows up, crashing through a window. He captures Taha and takes him to the one remaining police station in B13. But, just his luck, they’re “closed,” as the captain tells him. He shows them Taha and a suitcase full of drugs. But Taha’s men have arrived and they outnumber the police 4 to 1. So the captain throws Leito into jail and lets Taha take his drugs and go. Only he wants one more thing – Lola. The captain shrugs his shoulders and allows it.
Enter Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) as a member of the police’s elite task force. He’s a special intervention unit officer and expert in martial arts, is a master in the field of infiltration, and usually successful at completing his operations through rapid, precise and often violent actions, as shown in his introductory sequence wherein he must battle a good dozen bad guys unarmed.
As far as he knows, the government has assigned him the most extreme assignment of his career: to defuse a nuclear weapon which has been stolen by Taha’s gang. In order to do so, he must infiltrate B13, and in order to do that, he must join up with Leïto, whose primary goal is to save his sister. Of course, Leito is the only person they have who knows District B13 like the back of his hand.
Cyril Raffaelli is a bit actor and stuntman for a string of action-packed films, including Transporter 1 and 2, and Brotherhood of the Wolf. David Belle is an actor whose few roles include Marksman 1 and Femme Fatale. Dany Verissimo, as Lola, starred in the aptly named French TV series French Beauty and the film The Green Butchers. Bib Naceri, as Taha, has been in the action films The Code and The Nest. All of these actors do an excellent job with the material and are quite convincing. But none moreso than Raffaelli and Belle, whose athleticism and gymnastic abilities really sink us deep into the feel of the non-stop, high tension action.
District B13 is directed by cinematographer and first-time director Pierre Morel from a script co-written by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri (who plays Taha in the film). Morel has been the cinematographer on a number of films written and directed by Besson. All-in-all, District B13 is a fast-paced and furiously intense action film with a lot of neat twists and turns, and most especially some outstanding feats of combat choreography and acrobatics. Recommended for your summer “must see” list.
Del Harvey is a film teacher and writer living in Chicago.
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