Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
Although the present French social scene provides the subtext for this film, the almost non-stop, eye-popping action sequences banish any serious thoughts about social injustice that might occur to viewers. This dystopia is set in 2010 when the French authorities have given up on District (banlieue in French) B13, a slum consisting of huge housing projects where the largely immigrant poor try to eke out an existence dominated by drug lords and their minions. The government has walled off the District, the checkpoints being every bit as difficult to get through as the Iron Curtain was 30 years earlier. Undercover Detective Damien (Cyril Raffaelli), an expert in martial arts, fakes the escape from prison of Banlieue B13 dweller Leito (David Belle) because he needs Leito’s help in entering the District, where drug lord Taha (Bibi Naceri) has obtained a neutron bomb that could kill over two million people in the district. Damien has just a few hours to turn off the mechanism that will explode the device.
Leito soon realizes that his escape had been a ruse, but is persuaded to cooperate with the cop. At the beginning of the film he had had a run-in with Taha, and when he had captured the drug king and taken him to the district police station, the corrupt cop had freed the criminal and imprisoned Leito instead, the policeman’s last act as he was shutting down the station, leaving District B13 without any protection (or schools and other government services). Taha had seized Leito’s sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) and turned her into a drug addicted sex pet. Leito thus has quite a score to settle with the crook, as well as the desire to save his own neck from the bomb. But he suspects that all is not as it seems, something he has little time to think about as the pair fight off thugs and swing and jump from building to building. The fight scenes, with Leito and pursuers vaulting, jumping, and swinging up and down stair wells and from floor to floor of the high rises and thence from building to building is thrilling to watch, but parents had better be sure to tell their eager adolescents not to try any of the incredible stunts at home.