District 13: Ultimatum
Directed by Patrick Alessandrin
Released February 5, 2010
If ever a movie was to be classified solely as an action film, this is it. This nonstop shot of adrenaline is a sequel to the 2004 French film “District B13,” not this past year’s South African sci-fi hit “District 9.” While it picks up where the first one left off, it isn’t necessary to see the original first. Instead of slimy aliens partitioned into ghettos, there are a whole host of diverse gangs and communities that inhabit the slums of District 13, an impoverished borough sectioned off from the rest of Paris due to the violent nature of what goes on inside. The fiery anger imbued in all of the characters is just waiting to explode, but fear not – it doesn’t take long for the fury and action to shift into high gear.
What’s particularly exciting and unique about the world of “District 13” is its incorporation of parkour, translated as the art of moving, which involves quick running, fast thinking, and using the surrounding environment to best navigate a route. In this case, parkour is used to elude and fend off pursuers. The art is visually stunning and completely captivating, and the action sequences, which dominate the film, go on for ten to twenty minutes at a time without losing any of their initial excitement. It’s simply impossible to anticipate the sheer amount of awesome action contained here in 100 minutes.
The protagonists are a major part of what makes the film so intensely fun. Leito, a parkour master and connoisseur of the slums, can evade capture even if one hundred men are after him and do it in style. Damien, an undercover cop, is particularly skilled at hand-to-hand combat and mastering any situation in which he finds himself. He even fights battles while holding on to a priceless painting, using it as a weapon while taking special care not to damage it. When the two of them team up, it’s astonishing. These guys aren’t ever going to lose – they’re going to kick ass and dominate every single time they go up against a dozen opponents at the same time.
From the very first scene when the camera zooms through the dreary, seedy District 13, a thumping, thrilling score serves as the razor-edged anthem for the ghetto. It amps up the pace of the film so that it remains fully charged even when characters aren’t being chased or trying to kill each other. Furious French rap music often accompanies the score, enhancing it even more. What’s especially surprising about this all-out action flick is that its gruff, hard-nosed exterior actually conceals a clever story. The script is impressively sharp, and it actually makes sense, which hardly seems necessary in this context but only serves to make the film better. Most importantly, experienced French writer-director Luc Besson knows when to put logic aside and indulge his audience in full-fledged ridiculousness. At one point in the film, gang leader Tao (Elodie Yung) prepares to fight off a legion of attackers, and pauses to insert headphones into her ears so that she can have music to inspire her in the subsequent showdown. In District 13, it’s all about getting into the action.
Please note: a version of this review was originally published in the Washington Square News.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
District 13: Ultimatum