The French, man. The French kick ass. Regardless of what certain Fox News correspondents would have you believe, the French know how to get things done.
The subject of our discussion today, or rather just my inane ramblings, is the French action picture District B13. Famed French writer/director Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri pen an incredibly dense action packed script that Pierre Morel executes with devastating consequences. The holy grail of the action genre is to maintain momentum from beginning to end. A feat that is rarely attained. Usually, you get like a really hard hitting fifteen minutes and then everything cools off for expositions. Then maybe somewhere in the second act you’ll get a couple of really successful action beats and then everything will cool off for exposition. Finally, the third act will ramp up and attempt to give you a massive finish. Inevitably, you always end up longing for something similar in tone to the first fifteen minutes of the film.
District B13 does not suffer from this problem. Nearly the entire running time is pumping on all four cylinders. Everything is laid out in concise and direct terms and everything makes sense. We one of the character drops through a glass ceiling unannounced and pins a drug lord to a table covered with cocaine it makes sense. “oh, of course he’s doing this. He’s like an urban Robin Hood who just happens to dig parkour.”
The first twenty minutes are a flawless exercise in tension and economy of storytelling. The plot, even though the film would be worth watching for the stunts alone, is actually extremely engaging and impressive.
The film deals with a fairly standard formula. Two good people with opposite lifestyles are forced to set aside interpersonal differences to overcome an insurmountable obstacle. Lieto, played by the super badass inventor of parkour David Belle, is an urban Robin Hood who lives in the worst ghetto this side of Mega City One. He is paired up with, and eventually learns to cooperate with super cop Captain Damien Tomaso, played by equally badass and unfortunately not-inventor of parkour Cyril Raffaelli. Never in my life would I have ever thought that I’d have been in such admiration of a dude named Cyril. Both he and Belle deliver impressive physical performances.
The film centers around District B13, an extremely crime ridden area in the heart of France. The do-gooders who come together in order to stop a bomb, which has accidently fallen into a gang lord’s possession, from going off and killing millions of innocent B13 inhabitants.
Belle and Raffaelli are a perfect good cop/bad cop combination. Although it’s more like good cop/gooder cop. Neither of them are particularly flawed or out of control. Unless you count recklessly hurling your body off of stuff. If that’s criteria then both of our principle actors are full on Mel Gibson crazy. The amount of stuff jumped over in this move would make that I’m-figuring-out-my-spider-powers-while-olleying-over-progressively-bigger-stuff montage from Amazing Spiderman blush. But then again, in a movie with parkour as driving force behind it I’d expect no less. I’m looking at you, SciFi Channel The Phantom miniseries. I’m looking at you.
The resolution of the plot is interesting and compelling but the most fascinating aspect of the film is the world it’s set in and how the characters jump off of stuff. The film really seems to nail the social unrest that is currently happening. With people mistrusting their government and really becoming dissatisfied with how things are being carried out District B13 feels very of the moment. I really don’t want to use the word zeitgeist because it’s a go-to for far too many people. And then you sit back and you realize that it came out in 2004, which is almost ten years ago. Good job, Luc Besson and Pierre Morel. Good job, indeed.