In the near future, the worst ghettos of Paris, France are literally walled off and among the worst is District B13. Controlled by the ruthless crime lord, Taha, a young righteous punk named Leïto is determined to bring him down. When the boss retaliates by kidnapping his sister, Lola, a rescue attempt by Leïto is destroyed by betrayal that gets him arrested and Lola kept in the clutches in Taha. Six months later, a crackerjack undercover cop named Damien is given a urgent mission: a neutron bomb has been stolen by Taha in District B13 which has an automatic timer function engaged and set to detonate in less than 24 hours. Now with time running out, Damien and Leïto must work together to find and stop the bomb, but there is far more to this crisis than any of the field players realize.
Directed by: Pierre Morel
. Starring: Cyril Raffaelli
, David Belle
, Tony D'Amario
, Bibi Naceri
, Dany Verissimo-Petit
, François Chattot
, Nicolas Woirion
, Patrick Olivier
, Samir Guesmi
, Jérôme Gadner
, Tarik Boucekhine
, Grégory Jean
, Warren Zavatta
. Music by: Bastide Donny
, Damien Roques
When one sees Luc Besson's name involved with anything you learn to expect a great many effects, cool moments and some ridiculous plotting. Banlieue 13 (henceforth B13) shows this perfectly.
What we have is pretty simple. In 2010 certain districts on the outskirts of Paris, the suburbs (banlieue), so brilliantly characterised in 1995's La Haine (which anyone interested in film should see if they haven't done so already), have become untenable. The schools, post offices and most other public buildings are closed, with the police on the verge of moving out as well. A blooming great wall has been erected around each area and inside everything's gone to hell, with criminals and drugs rampant. But we're not interested in the social and economic situation, oh no...
Instead our attention is initially on Leito (French devotee of 'Parkour' or freerunning David Belle), a young man who lives in the very worst suburb of Paris: banlieue, or borro, 13. In the opening stages of the movie he is destroying a very large bag of heroin he got a hold of through unknown means. Fat French criminal K-2 (Tony D'Amario) soon arrives, with a bunch of goons driving very ostentatious vehicles. K-2 murders a few of Leito's mates and looks for the man himself. We are supposed to believe that Leito is the boss of his building, a position he backs up with shotgun wielding guards, but believes in cleanliness, schools and such like. This contradiction is difficult to understand: how would someone with no criminal tendencies get into such a position? Regardless, in it he is and, when K-2 turns up at his door, it is time for Leito to spring into action.
This he does really rather effectively and suddenly the ridiculousness of the situation we've been shown fades into insignificance. Apparently 90% of the movie's stunts and Parkour were done without the benefit of wire work. For insurance purposes the actors were fitted with equipment to stop them falling to their deaths, but those wires were purely for safety, rather than enhansive, purposes. Regardless, what happens next is truly incredible, as Leito runs, jumps, swings, rolls and practically flies across the roofs, stairs and walkways of a number of buildings as he endeavours to escape the attentions of K-2 and his goons. The fact that they keep catching up with him doesn't make much sense, nor do their Parkour skills either (if it was me I'd have been left for dead after approximately 5 seconds!) but Leito has to evade capture for a good five minutes. He does so successfully and it's all very impressive.
Of course this leaves K-2 in the unfortunate position of having to explain to his boss, Taha (Bibi Naceri), how he and 12 guys failed to capture one unarmed Frenchman. Fortunately K-2 has the brilliant idea of how to get Leito under their control: kidnap his sister. This is done, but doesn't go quite according to plan as Leito simply turns up and captures Taha, liberates his (incredibly attractive) sister and flees with her and Taha to the police. Unfortunately they're moving out and, instead of arresting a drug kingpin, they arrest Leito and let Taha leave with our hero's sister, who is first knocked unconscious and then carried out to be doped up with heroin.
Leito is not too happy about this but is in jail and can do nothing (quite why Taha doesn't have him killed in prison isn't answered). However, hope returns for the boy from B13 when he is sprung by French police captain Damien (Cyril Raffaelli- who is perhaps best known to martial arts movie enthusiasts as the smaller twin in Jet Li's Kiss of the Dragon). Damien is introduced in emphatic style by taking out a nightclub full of goons before being tasked with retrieving a clean nuclear bomb that has someone found its way into Taha's hands in B13... Yes, that sentence is not a mistake, it is the genuine plot of this film...
Anyhow, Damien and Leito form a very uneasy partnership and go about trying to get back the bomb and Leito's extremely stoned sister. Much fighting and action ensues and it's all fairly cool stuff. At 75 minutes in length B13 knows better than to outstay its welcome and the massive plot holes don't really distract from what we've paid to see: Raffaelli and Belle doing their martial arts and gymnastics. If that's what you're interested in then I recommend this film. However, if you were looking for a new version of La Haine please look elsewhere, this movie treats the complex notions and interplays between the rich and poor of France with an almost comical, adolescent incompetence that could prove insulting to anyone who has to deal with these problems (like the whole of society)... However, with a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other, there can be little fault found with this movie and, as an advert for French martial arts film making and freerunning in general, you can't find much fault with it.
Review by james_norman1981 from the Internet Movie Database.