Brick Mansions, released in 2014, is an American remake of French action film Banlieue 13. Brick Mansions stands out for its use of parkour, the sport also known as “free-running,” in the film’s action scenes.
Of course, the stunt coordinators and choreographers always play an important role in the production of an action film. However, that role was even more important in this instance. Because parkour is such an impressive and distinct sport, conveying it effectively in cinematic language meant making sure everyone involved, from the actors to the director, understood the sport and had the skills necessary to put it up onscreen.
That’s where David Belle came in. Belle is the creator of parkour, and he also plays a role in both Brick Mansions and the French original. Having a star who is also the authority on parkour was certainly helpful for the filmmakers in this instance. Belle could essentially serve as both a performer and stunt coordinator. His presence ensured there was always someone on hand should the director or actors have questions about the sport.
Luckily, interviews prove that Belle also understands what factors a director needs to consider when choreographing action scenes. Belle admitted that parkour itself isn’t exactly a “linear” type of action. He stated that there are moments of intensity, as well as moments that are relatively calm. He understood that it was important for a director to be able to find the “musicality” of the sport. Knowing how to make it look impressive onscreen while also telling a compelling story with effective action meant appreciating how those different moments contribute to an overall rhythm. Because Belle appreciated this as an actor, he was able to also appreciate how a director would translate the sport into cinema.
In other interviews, Belle pointed out that director Camille Delamarre’s professional background actually made him uniquely qualified to achieve this feat. According to Belle, Delamarre’s editing experience helped him. He knew how to edit a parkour sequence, highlighting its intensity and maintaining a strong rhythm during the film’s action scenes. This further indicates that Belle is the type of athlete-turned-performer who understands how the language of cinema can be used to complement his sport. Instead of thinking about the action solely from the perspective of an athlete, he thought about how a director would translate the choreography into something that worked in a movie.
Speaking about Delamarre, Belle used the metaphor of music to describe how a filmmaker goes about taking a parkour sequence and turning it into something that fits within the framework of a larger story. He compared Delamarre to the conductor of an orchestra, with the actors serving as the various musicians. Each musician in an orchestra plays a small part that contributes to the entire piece. Belle pointed out in interviews that Delamarre used his performers in this capacity as well.
He also had high praise for his co-stars, including the late Paul Walker. Given that Belle is the creator of parkour, it would have been understandable if he’d felt the actors who were unfamiliar with the sport weren’t putting in sufficient effort to learn its intricacies. However, this was not the case. He praised their discipline, especially that of Walker, who he said had the ability to stay focused when learning parkour while also being able to have fun and make others laugh.
Perhaps most importantly, interviews prove that Belle also understood how parkour was meant to serve the film itself, instead of being a separate element. He stated that the filmmakers used parkour to show how characters got from one point to another. Thus, the parkour sequences had to be natural extensions of what the characters were experiencing in the moment, and the choreography had to be appropriate for their motivation, whether it was to evade a foe, capture a foe, or simply navigate an urban space. That said, Belle also knew that the choreography had to include distinctly impressive moments within overall sequences in order to be memorable long after the movie was over. Belle’s ability to think like a filmmaker with an athlete’s perspective was likely very helpful to everyone involved.
Of course, Brick Mansions didn’t merely succeed in thrilling audiences because of its impressive action choreography. The story itself is an exciting ride for audiences, featuring dynamic performances from talented actors. Still, because one of those actors also happened to invent the sport the film highlights, its action sequences are particularly impressive. After all, the filmmakers had an expert on set with them every day.