District 13

“Hey, remember the BBC1 adverts in 2001 of a man free-running across London to watch his television? Well, they were pretty cool right? They should make a film of it. They have? Awesome!”

District 13 (2004)

No, not a sequel to District 9, but a film from 2004 from director Pierre Morel. Set in the “near future” (2013, so not that far in the future then), it tells the story of Leïto (David Belle, the guy from the BBC adverts), who is particularly adept at free-running (or parkour, if you’re in the business, which I’m not), and his attempts to stop a bomb in the middle of ‘District 13’, a Parisian shanty town where not even the police dare tread.

“I’m retired as of tonight and I’d like to take advantage of it. It was her or me. I’m sorry.”

At the beginning of the film, Leïto rescues his sister, Lola (Dany Verissimo) from one of District 13’s drug barons, but is instead framed and sent to jail. He is then paired up with policeman Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli, another free-runner) to break into District 13 and stop the bomb (which has landed in the hands of the same baron who framed Leïto). So far so clichéd. However, there is a moral dilemma; the district is so corrupt (somewhere in the film it is mentioned that it is about 50% corrupt, which is convenient), is it better to let the bomb go off, and easily remove the problem district. It’s here that the film fails. This issue is mentioned once or twice, but never really discussed in depth. I know this is an action film, but it doesn’t mean there is no room for intelligent discussion.

“Where did you learn that?” “A cookbook or some official manual… I don’t remember.”

The action is ok, and this was before the fantastic parkour crane chase in Casino Royale. It’s just as the film appears to be a vehicle for the parkour skills of Belle and Raffaelli, there isn’t really that much free-running, save for the beginning and end. Having said that, the fight in which Damien and Leïto meet is really well choreographed, and wouldn’t look out of place in a Bourne or (new) Bond film. Yet the main actors don’t seem that qualified to carry a whole film. They don’t appear convincing, and this is nothing to do with me not speaking French. The only character really worth bothering about is Lola, and that is because she was the only character to have any sort of spine. Oh, and the main henchman of the drug baron, but that’s because henchmen are generally good characters.

Finally, it’s a bit of an odd gripe, but the title doesn’t work. In France, the film is called Banlieue 13, and soi s reffered to as ‘B13’ in all the writing throughout the film (excluding the subtitles), not D13. In the climax of the film this is quite crucial. Fundamentally so, in fact. Therefore, why not call the film ‘Borough 13’? We’d still understand it. In conclusion, it’s an average film. The action is ok, but there are better examples (including the BBC advert), and the story needed far better execution, which could have provided better examples of free-running. Personally, I’d rather they made a film of this Frenchman, to display his skills.

Rob Bender

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