Parkour is a cross between a sport and a martial art form. It is the acrobatic and athletic approach to getting from A to B as quickly and easily as possible, regardless of the obstacles in the way. David Belle was the founder of parkour, and he is one of the leads in this French action-adventure film.
District B-13 is more a vehicle for parkour than a full-fledged action movie. With a cast of unknown French actors, and written by Luc Besson (who directed the 1997 Willis flick The Fifth Element), it is largely unknown in the United States. It is set in a grim Paris in 2010, where near-anarchy is present. The government has given up on many areas and bordered them, building walls to form ghettos (anyone remember Europe during World War 2?). District B-13 is one of them, populated by lowlife, and run by a criminal gang. There is little law, and what "law" there is is administered by the one with the biggest gun. The wild west has moved east to Paris.
The movie opens with an almost 30 minute prologue, introducing the two lead actors. Leito (David Belle) lives in B-13 and is trying to clean it up, to make it better for those who call it home. When he destroys 1 million euros worth of heroin, his sister Lola is kidnapped by the B-13 crime boss, Taha. Leito succeeds in rescuing her, and capturing Taha, but the police will do nothing. Instead, Leito takes the fall and is sent to prison. Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) is a captain in the Parisian police force, committed to upholding the law, regardless of what it is. We see him at the culmination of a prolonged undercover mission, as he takes down an entire gang single-handedly in the mayhem of a casino bust. Clearly he is not someone to be trifled with.
Immediately after the casino take-down, Damien is asked to go into B-13 where Taha has possession of a stolen neutron bomb. What a coincidence! In the theft, it has been inadvertently armed and triggered. He has less than 24 hours to find it and defuse it. His only help is Leito, who wants to find and rescue Lola. This sets the scene for the final two-thirds. We have a “buddy” movie with two “buddies” on different, though related, missions.
District B-13 is fast-paced, but the plot-line is thin and the dialog is cheesy, especially toward the end. The scenes are sometimes far-fetched, with bullet-riddled cars carrying totally unscathed passengers. How can so many men fire so many bullets and not one time hit the targets?
The ending brings a twist. B-13 is a problem for the government and, though not the “final solution”, their solution is to simply neutron bomb the ghetto. When Damien asks, “You really think the government would allow District 13 to be destroyed?” Leito answers, “Six million died for not having blonde hair and blue eyes.” So what is two million when most of them are criminals? When governments decide arbitrarily who can live and who can die, they have put themselves outside of the law. And at that point, citizens must resist and call them to account.
At the end, ironically Damien says that the problems of the world cannot be solved with violence. After spending 90 minutes solving this French problem with violence, both guns and fists beyond the capability of most, he is now calling for a more pacifist approach. For sure, violence is to be avoided as much as possible. But there are times and places where violence is the only solution (anyone remember World War 2?). Knowing the difference is the key.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs