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Overall Rating

Awesome: 33.33%
Worth A Look65.33%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 1.33%

9 reviews, 21 user ratings

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District B13
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by Jay Seaver

"Ooooh... That's gonna leave a mark."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: There are two kinds of action movie in the world. There's the ones that make the audience ooh and ahh and whoop from an adrenaline rush, and then there's the ones like "District B13", where you get some of that, but you as often wince, draw a sharp intake of breath, and kind of turn halfway from the screen. You lean over to the guy sitting next to you and whisper "that, mon ami... that has got to hurt."

It's to be expected. We're informed right off the bat that Paris's District 13 is a violent place, so bad that in 2010 it's been walled off from the rest of the city with the police pulling out to just let the riffraff kill each other. Still, there's one guy in there willing to fight for what's right: Leito (David Belle) has intercepted a suitcase full of heroin and is destroying it. This displeases gangster Taha (Bibi Naceri), so he sends henchman K2 (Tony D'Amario) to stop him. There's a big fight, Taha and K2 decide to kidnap Leito's sister Lola (Dany Verissimo), and there's another big fight. The film then skips six months and introduces us to Damien (Cyril Raffaelli), a crack undercover operative (via a big fight), who is sent undercover into B13 to retrieve a neutron bomb that has fallen into Taha's hands, with prisoner Leito as a guide. Big fights ensue.

If one needs to justify spending an hour and a half watching a couple guys throw some martial arts around against a large enough army of gangsters to occupy Iraq, there is a sort of theme about governments trying to solve cities' problems by locking people up and maybe being more willing to jail proactive community leaders like Leito rather than supporting them. Writers Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri certainly don't pretend to be subtle about that; not only do they have Damien and Leito argue the philosophical point, but there's a neutron bomb that will kill all the people but leave buildings standing in the middle of a slum. If you think Taha's the biggest threat, you probably haven't seen a movie before.

But enough of that; this is the kind of movie that prefers to let its fists do the talking, loud and often. It opens with three highly impressive action sequences, and if you don't want to see more of David Belle after the first couple, you probably shouldn't be in this sort of movie anyway. Just looking at him, the man is ruggedly handsome, and the costumers put him in a series of sleeveless tee-shirts and tight pants that show him to be all muscle without being bulky; he evades capture by hopping up walls like Jackie Chan and leaping across rooftops like a track and field star. He's good with the martial arts, too, moving quickly and unleashing impressive salvoes of punches. Also, what he does in that prison cell? Badass.

Cyril Raffaelli isn't quite as athletic to my eyes. He's playing a military man, so he gets to do more with guns and in terms of fighting is more of a brawler - still capable, and pretty darn cool, but not as crazy fun to watch as Belle. He gets to do a little more acting, as the straight-laced guy fond of protocol who finds that the the loose cannon he's teamed with may have a point. He gets how a soldier is; combining strong tactical intelligence with an almost naïve trust in his country.

If you've seen a movie from Luc Besson's factory in the last few years, you can kind of fill in some of the rest of the other characters: Bibi Naceri draws "completely over-the-top monstrous villain" (that is some excessive cocaine he dives into), while Ms. Verissimo is the hot girl who who elicits a paternal rather than sexual reaction from the heroes. He and his various collaborators have gotten good at banging these action movie screenplays out - simple story, a half-dozen good action scenes (with a good balance of hardware and hand-to-hand), over-the-top villains, and an emotional motivation for the hero that doesn't get all sappy. It's not great art, necessarily, but it's high-quality craftsmanship.

And director Pierre Morel is a good craftsman. He cuts the movie down about as far as it will go while keeping everything it needs and walks right up to the line between "loud and fun" and "too garish" without crossing it. He even finds a good middle ground between fast-cutting and letting us get a good enough view of the action to let us know Belle and Raffaelli can do this stuff, as opposed to being actors made to look good by editing. And, most importantly, he accepts that he's making a punching and kicking movie, and while there's a message to it, he doesn't push it at the expense of the fun.

And, apropos of nothing, I had no idea what a great match hip-hop and the French language are until I heard the song over the end credits. But it was also one-thirty or so and I was getting silly after a five-movie day, so make of that what you will.

Anyway, "District B13" is a pretty darn snazzy action movie. Somehow, France (especially Besson and company) has managed to fuse Hollywood slickness with Hong Kong bone-crunching in a way neither has managed on their own.

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originally posted: 04/29/06 13:35:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Deep Focus Film Fest For more in the 2006 Deep Focus Film Fest series, click here.

User Comments

1/16/09 Shaun Wallner Very Interesting 4 stars
2/02/08 rome Dany Verissimo as Lola was simply gorgeous. The movie was worth it just to see her. 5 stars
4/03/07 mario great movie 5 stars
1/14/07 Tanya Fun to watch, the action scenes were great but the film was short 5 stars
10/24/06 chris yes this film is really good as im into Le Parkour 5 stars
9/09/06 danthewrestlingman Not since Drive(mark dacascos) has an action film impressed me this much 5 stars
8/28/06 Tom Rx Really good film especially if your into parkour 5 stars
6/15/06 Ricardo good action film 4 stars
6/14/06 burton miller i wish i had known it was directed by the same asshole that directed 'transporter 2' 1 stars
6/13/06 Mase Mindless fun, charasmatic stars, and a great pulsing techno soundtrack. 4 stars
6/07/06 Darren Shea A well-constructed, exciting action film - why can't American dumb actioners be this good? 4 stars
6/06/06 Karl It was fun and entertaining. Lots of good action/stunt. 4 stars
6/03/06 KingNeutron Great action sequences, some good lines. Recommended. 4 stars
6/02/06 San Lamar good 5 stars
5/30/06 Jeremy The talent displayed here is astounding... Felt like I was hooked to an iv of adrenaline 5 stars
4/23/06 Panda-chan This is one ridiculously awesome movie. Belle does an amazing job of showing parkour. 5 stars
4/14/06 SCYTHER Good parkour scenes 5 stars
3/30/06 Alicia Awesome 5 stars
3/17/06 Rebecca It's a dumb action movie, but it's a good dumb action movie. 4 stars
10/24/05 The Almighty Zero Mind-blowing, gravity-defying action movie! Wonderful choreography and great eye candy! 5 stars
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  02-Jun-2006 (R)
  DVD: 05-Sep-2006



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