District 13

Director    Pierre Morel
Starring    David Belle, Cyril Raffaeli, Bibi Naceri
4 stars


13th July 2006

Luc Besson has been a busy boy recently - although he's barely been sat in the director's chair for the last decade, he's proven to be a profilic writer and producer, with over 30 credits to his name over the last two years. Completed in 2004, clips of District 13 began appearing on the internet a while back and generated a fair amount of buzz, thanks to action scenes of astounding physical agility; like another of Besson's executive producer credits, Ong Bak, it didn't rely on wire work or CGI, with its performers well versed in the sport of Parkour, or free running. If you've seen those nutters leaping from rooftop to rooftop, jumping off balconies and sliding down banisters, you've got a good idea of just how incredible Parkour is; quite why it's taken this long to appear in a mainstream action film is genuinely baffling.

How to get rid of the scum on the streets? You could wait for the rain to come and wash them away, but the French government has a better idea: build a wall around the worst areas, and let them govern themselves. This is the state of Paris in 2010, with estates tearing themselves to pieces from within, and with the police on a tight leash, the crime lords run things within the city walls. City dweller Leito (Belle, think Jason Schwarzman with better abs) is no ordinary citizen; in fact, he's a one man machine on a mission to save District 13 from the likes of villain Taha (Naceri), who's flooding the streets with drugs. When a classified bomb is hijacked and brought to Leito's home town, he's recruited by the government and paired with tough-nut cop Damien (Raffaelli) to go get it back, with his captive sister Lola the sweetener.

Remember how you felt the first time you finished a marathon Tony Hawk session, and upon venturing outside for the first time afterwards, every kerb, bench, fence and surface had suddenly turned in your mind's eye into a grindable object? That's how District 13 will make you feel: like the city is your playground. Obviously unless you're a first-rate free runner then it's not recommended to go vaulting from pillar to post, but it's an exhilarating feeling watching the pros defy gravity. Leito is described as "a bar of soap" by his pursuers, and they're exactly right, as this slippery bugger is quite capable of squeezing out of any situation given half a chance. You'll have never seen chase scenes as fast and frenetic as these: more than once you'll find yourself rubbing your eyes and questioning exactly how they did it. Suddenly, Wire-Fu looks very last century.

Although the plot is clearly hokum of the highest order (not that it wouldn't be fun to wall in all the nation's chavs and let them kill each other, leaving only the discarded bling to be melted down), it's a fairly tight little movie that stays true to its concept and doesn't bother investing in a rubbish love interest or anything that might distract from the action - the two athletic stars are rarely off screen. There are a few major plot holes to be spotted - why exactly did they choose that code? - but for the most part it's a crowd-pleasing, intelligent action flick that's quite happy to spend its brief running time taking names and kicking ass. Catching it is highly recommended, leaping down a flight of stairs afterwards is not: I've a sprained ankle that will testify to that.

More:  Action  Foreign
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