Saturday, November 16, 2013

Instant Action: Banlieue 13 (District B13, 2004)

When has putting walls up ever been a good idea, really?

Written By: Luc Besson & Bibi Naceri
Directed By: Pierre Morel

The first fifteen minutes or so of Banlieue 13 feature some truly electrifying action. Maybe dynamic would be a better word, because I found the action in this first fifteen minutes to be truly different than any other action I’ve seen before. I have little to no knowledge of parkour, the only previous experience I had with parkour was on an episode of the United States version of The Office. Based on that episode, and the little word of mouth I had heard, I never imagined parkour to be much besides people jumping off the aides of buildings. If Banlieue 13 is an example of the best usage of parkour, then count me in as a parkour fan.

The remaining action in Banlieue 13 is pretty good, but it never lives up to the first fifteen minutes. For reasons that I can’t quite comprehend Pierre Morel tones down the parkour influence throughout the rest of the film. It does pop up from time to time, but the free flowing nature of the first action sequence slowly gives way to the same action scenes we’ve seen for years now. Those action scenes were still decent mind you, but they lacked the inventiveness and energy found in the first sequence.

Story is not something for Banlieue 13 to hang its hat on. Put simply, the story in Banlieue 13 is a whole lot of been there, done that. It’s serviceable, and it gets the job done as far as getting the characters from point A to point B. However, as some of the recent action I’ve watched- Dredd, Haywire, and Get the Gringo for example- has been able to show, story need not suffer for the sake of action. The two can live and breathe together quite nicely, but that’s never the case in Banlieue 13. When the action kicks in the story sits down, and when the story pops back up it feels out of place with the action.

I was disappointed, yet impressed by Banlieue 13. It could have been a whole lot better, but the action was enjoyable and I ended up having a decent time watching the film. Monsieur Morel’s film never lives up to its first fifteen minutes, it would be most appropriate to say that it did shoot its wad far too early. Still, those first fifteen minutes are something special, and help to bolster the more traditionally choreographed action scenes that follow. Banlieue 13 didn’t rock my action world like I thought it was going to following the first fifteen minutes. It’s a decent film though, and the energy of the film stayed with me long after I finished watching. That is something that cinema should strive for more often, and I’m all for a movie that exudes energy.



Bill Thompson

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