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City of God
Year:
2002
Country:
Brazil, France
Genre:
Crime, Drama
IMDB rating:
8.7
Director:
Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Alexandre Rodrigues as Buscapé Criança - Young Rocket
Leandro Firmino as Dadinho - Li'l Dice
Phellipe Haagensen as Bené Criança - Young Benny
Douglas Silva as Dadinho - Li'l Dice
Jonathan Haagensen as Cabeleira - Shaggy
Matheus Nachtergaele as Sandro Cenoura - Carrot
Seu Jorge as Mané Galinha - Knockout Ned
Jefechander Suplino as Alicate - Clipper
Alice Braga as Angélica
Emerson Gomes as Barbantinho - Stringy
Edson Oliveira as Barbantinho Adulto - Older Stringy
Michel de Souza as Bené Criança - Young Benny
Roberta Rodrigues as Berenice - Bernice
Luis Otávio as Buscapé Criança - Young Rocket
Storyline: Brazil, 1960's, City of God. The Tender Trio robs motels and gas trucks. Younger kids watch and learn well...too well. 1970's: Li'l Zé has prospered very well and owns the city. He causes violence and fear as he wipes out rival gangs without mercy. His best friend Bené is the only one to keep him on the good side of sanity. Rocket has watched these two gain power for years, and he wants no part of it. Yet he keeps getting swept up in the madness. All he wants to do is take pictures. 1980's: Things are out of control between the last two remaining gangs...will it ever end? Welcome to the City of God.
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Reviews
Magnificent, gut-wrenching and utterly compelling
Do not be fooled by the coy charm of the promotional poster. The image of the girl shyly leaning over to kiss the cheek of a bare-backed boy on golden sands drenched in sunlight represents an ideal that many residents of the City of God strive for, but few achieve.

The rewards are all too tangible: The football, the music, the heady culture of samba and carnival joie de vivre is never far away, but escaping from the slums of Rio is a little more complicated than sloping off to the beach for the afternoon. The City of God is a raging maelstrom of violence, drugs and gang warfare, and its inhabitants are indoctrinated in the way of the gun from an early age.

Fernando Meirelles' film (based on a true story) is a breathtakingly convincing interpretation of life in the notorious Rio favela. Using hundreds of real-life slum children to supplement a superb central cast and shooting entirely around the dusty streets and abject poverty of the neighbourhood, Meirelles charts the history of the area through the narration of Rocket, a peaceable soul with journalistic aspirations who is entirely at odds with the mayhem around him.

Rocket explains how the slum was used as a dumping ground for all Rio's undesirables in the 1960s. Despite a population of criminals and ne'er-do-wells, the early part of the film is an homage to plucky underdog cheeriness and community spirit. Rocket's brother is a member of the 'Tender Trio', a dashing group of bandits who go about brandishing pistols and holding up gas trucks like latter day highwaymen.

Despite an elegant notoriety, the Trio's crimes tend to yield less than impressive fiscal reward, so they plan a heist on a motel-cum-knocking shop in an attempt to up the ante. It goes badly wrong. The gang's lily-livered tendencies mean they make a sharp exit at the first sniff of trouble but, unbeknownst to them, their lookout, unhappy with his passive role in proceedings (as bored nine-year-old little brothers are wont to be), strolls into the motel and fires at will, chortling psychotically as each hooker and john crumples to the floor.

The kid in question is L'il Dice, a chubby Arnold-out-of-Diff'rent-Strokes lookalike with an insatiable lust for mayhem. The motel incident marks a shift in emphasis for the City of God and the following years see the slum descend into chaos as L'il Dice (later renamed L'il Ze) builds a narcotics empire by ruthlessly eliminating the competition.

The streets become a recruiting ground for drug dealers and gang lieutenants. Small children (or 'runts' as they are affectionately known) come to see guns and criminal activity as the only viable rungs up the status ladder. 'I smoke, I snort, I've killed and robbed - I'm a man,' one prepubescent boy states defiantly.

The film culminates in all-out war between L'il Ze's bunch of hoodlums and an idealistic group of insubordinates who throng behind the handsome Knockout Ned after he stands up to Ze's cruel regime. Meirelles is careful not to lionise Ned. Turning him into a hero figure would, I suppose, have romanticised a bitter and essentially futile conflict. Rocket, caught in the middle of the hostility highlights the ultimate irony: 'By the end, after years of fighting, nobody could remember how it all started,' he says. The war becomes the way of life in the favela. Being affiliated to one of the gangs gives the street kids credibility and, more importantly, access to weapons. Before long, guns are being handed out like lollipops, and the runts are running about excitedly firing their new 'toys' indiscriminately. It is the ultimate in power without responsibility.

In their breathless exaltations, many reviewers have dubbed City of God 'Brazil's answer to Goodfellas'. It is a comparison that may be sound in terms of structure – Meirelles has certainly mastered Scorsese's canny editing and daring method of chronicling events over long periods of time – but overall this is a different beast. It is more of a Lord of the Flies with AK-47s. The most alarming aspect of all is the shocking lack of parental presence.

This is essential in conveying the choices these street children have (or rather don't have). L'il Ze and his barbaric ilk become all these poor, impressionable little tykes have to aspire to. In short: they don't stand a chance – a fact sharply illustrated in one particularly distressing and almost unwatchable initiation scene where a young gang recruit is required to murder a cornered infant in order to appease his older colleagues.

But Meireilles does not let this base, visceral tone swamp his movie. In Rocket he has an inspirational protagonist – the perfect foil to the madness and despair. His coming of age scenes where he bashfully attempts to flirt with girls and lose his virginity; and the sequence where he and his mate resort to petty crime only to bottle out when their intended victims turn out to be 'way too cool' to rob are the glue that holds the drama together. Without the light relief this would be intense and depressing fare.

As it is, City of God is a triumph of story-telling: Magnificent, gut-wrenching and utterly compelling, it is cinema of the very highest order.

Do not miss it.

10/10
2004-10-26
The life of trash
The movie is basically the story of a bunch of criminal trash who grow up robbing and murdering in a makeshift ghetto for the homeless (in which the government has tossed them) at the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Predictably, they grow up to become only more sociopathic and parasitical on society. Some might call them "gangsters," but really people like these are merely low class, low IQ garbage that deserve death.

The one good thing about this movie is the beginning. For once, you see dangerous sociopathic scum get what they deserve from the cops. One of them gets shot down in the street running like a dog while his psychopathic girlfriend "cries."

The rest of the film develops in predictable ways: the glory days and the requisite downfall. You can kind of think of this movie as the "Good Fellas" version for the kind of subhuman garbage they must deal with in Brazil. Decent piece of entertainment, if you're not too revolted by their sociopathic criminality, not to mention their ugly faces.
2009-07-10
What a Film
The characters in this movie were what made this piece so special. It almost felt like we had to choose what side we were fighting with, Knockout Ned or the infamous Li'l Ze. The movie begins by explaining the "City of God" a small scummy place in the middle of Rio DE Janeiro, Brazil. Drug dealers run the streets and kids kill other kids just for fun. Li'l Ze begins his life by joining the older kids with petty crimes but escalates to mass murder within a few minutes. He grows up to be one of the most feared and ruthless drug dealers in the "City of God." Knockout Ned, with the help of Carrot, led the other drug gang in the city. Li'l Ze kills Ned's family and destroys his family home. This is when the war begins. The film pushes us to join Ned's force because he wants justice, all he wants is revenge for his families' death. We follow every move up until his death. This is the scene that got me the most. We see the most caring person, even in the middle of battle field, try to help a wounded child. The moment Knockout Ned turns around the child shoots him in the back. This scenes amazing because it showed me everyone was in this war for some personal reason. The reason the kid was in the war, to get revenge for his father's death. Who killed his father you ask? Knock Out Ned. Nobody cared about the cause of the war, but the war gave them a cause to fight and kill those who did them wrong.
2017-10-16
Crime doesn't pay for anyone
City of God is a movie about the idea that crime doesn't pay for anyone. It goes about demonstrating this idea by showing a succession of people trying to take over the ghetto with violence. Some of the candidates are kind-hearted Robin Hoods (Tender Trio), some are accidental gangsters (Knockout Ted), some are simply evil (Lil'Z) and some are a bunch of prepubescent kids (Runts). They all use violence to pursue crime. They all fail. Even as the Runts seem to rule the day at the end, having killed Lil'Z, you know things can change tomorrow (they're like, 10 years old). These four external plots are joined by an internal plot of our protagonist, Rocket, successfully avoiding a life of crime by luck and some fortitude.

The movie seems to want to be more than an episodic chorus of violence. It strains to show that the ghetto and a broken system makes crime and criminality inevitable. It shows this mainly through the reluctant criminal of Knockout Ted who is basically forced to become a gangster after trying to live virtuously. But this idea is relegated to secondary importance for me: much of the violence is glorified, and our hero does escape a life of crime (even though he is no where near as virtuous as Ted was), providing contrary evidence to the idea that crime is inevitable.

A change of protagonist from Rocket into Knockout Ted might have gotten this movie onto this bigger idea.

That's not to say the movie doesn't have some pretty memorable scenes, locations and the fact that it's a Brazilian production based on true characters is pretty awesome. I just think it could have mixed its potent ingredients together towards a bigger idea.

My Story Chart of the movie is at storycharts.ca.
2013-08-10
One of the very few must-see movies from the 21st century
There are awesome movies and then there's City of God. Whenever you think this brutal and devastating drama about crime in a violent neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro and 2 boys and the paths they take is dropping the pace, becoming unrealistic and going into cliché, it delivers another one of its many brilliantly directed, heart- stoppingly tense set pieces. Or another one of its quiet, beautifully written and acted character scenes. Or another one of its raw, blisteringly intense emotional beats each of which knock you out with the force of an onslaught of ballistic missiles. The actors here put many far more well-known actors to shame with their convincing, brilliant performances, while the visuals are endlessly inventive and compelling. This is a drama which doesn't hold back on any level and is filled to the brim with thought-provoking moments and compelling characters. It's a tough watch, but it's not completely depressing. It has many moments of warmth and humour, and thanks to all that tension even works as an enjoyable action movie. A fantastic film which demands to be seen. There's a good reason why this is so high on IMDb Top 250, and I hugely recommend seeing this instant classic.

10/10
2016-05-27
City of God was Incredible
I knew nothing of this film before I saw it by chance in a rare Pub open screening, but boy was I glad I got the chance to take a look. I was riveted all night - I completely ignored my friends! I thought it was an awesome re-enactment of a true story - powerful, moving, raw, real - and even funny in parts. I walked away afterwards, beaming. It's rare a great film like this is made, especially these days. I gave it ten out of ten. Please see it if you can.
2003-06-07
Breathtaking
City of God is the name of a city in the slums of Rio de Janeiro where this movie takes place. It tells the story of what its like living and growing up in a city where violence is common and drug lords had more power than the police.

By the short synopsis I just gave, one might think that this is a dark and horrific film to watch. While some scenes containing violence are scary, others are not and that is what is interesting about this film. Sound largely influences the film, upbeat music plays while a drug lord shoots a child, the drug gang smiles big for a picture each one slinging an assault rifle, kids becoming soldiers is celebrated… This film is shocking in the various ways that it tries to desensitize its audience to murder, rape, and drugs. In this way, the film truly attempts to get its audience to understand how common these tragedies were in the City of God.

Although a violent movie, there are times when the mise en scene is absolutely breathtaking. Taking place in Rio de Janeiro, the sun is shining and the beaches are hot. When the movie cuts to the beaches, we see a happier and safer City of God. These scenes are not long because the film tries to maintain that nobody is truly ever safe if they live in the City of God. I highly recommend this thought provoking movie to anyone.
2017-10-16
Truly Remarkable Cinema
This is what fine cinema is all about: motivational, probing and ultimately thought-provoking. This film scrutinizes the gang lifestyle in the Rio suburb of the film's namesake, City Of God, and along the way, captures the audience with its strong performances. This is one of the most influential and beautiful pieces of film-making one will ever see. This is a film that stays with you long after viewing it. Truly a benchmark in modern cinema, proving that the cinema of today still has hope. One of the greatest films, if not the best, of the '00s. If you only watch one foreign film in your lifetime, make this it. 9 out of 10.
2010-06-04
Cidade De Deus
The film, directed by Fernando Meirelles, tells the story of life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, in an area known as the Cidade De Deus, the City of God. The story is told from the narration of the young photographer, Rocket. The different scenarios of life that make up the wider-story are presented in Pulp Fiction style chapters, complete with on-screen titles for each different story component. The story covers all the facets of the life, charting the growth of several key members of the gangs from childhood through to young adulthood, with their transformation from young hoodlums to local drugs barons. The final parts of the story focus on the battle within the Cidade De Deus between two different groups, when business and personal matters lead to an unavoidable confrontation. And what a confrontation it is, although details will not be given away here. The result is a powerful telling of life based around real-life events.

Martin Scorsese seems to have a heavy influence on the direction of this picture, with many moments looking familiar to fans of the legendary American filmmaker. Close ups, sweeping scene shots, freeze-and-zoom shots, and a frenzied handheld approach are all trademarks that will be recognisably traceable to Scorsese, having been used throughout his career. Many shots remind the viewer of Scorsese's narrative dialogue-camera relationship in Goodfellas, in which the camera was used to brilliant effect to highlight the main points in the script. This technique is used heavily in the first twenty minutes of Cidade De Deus, with the freeze frame trick being used to introduce the story's main characters alongside the dialogue of narrator, Rocket.

Throughout the film one cannot help but watch a scene and think, 'I've seen that in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, or Casino', and this may make some look less favourably on the film's direction. However, it is not fair to consider this 'a Brazilian Goodfellas', as one critic has observed. The story has parallels - the underlying ideas of gangsters, drugs and violence -, the direction is similar, and the story is told with narration, much like Ray Liotta's role in Scorsese's epic. But to regard this film in terms of what styles it repeats or nods it's hat to, is to be very ignorant. Fernando Meirelles, has done a wonderfully hypnotic job of blending the old styles, and bringing them up to date with flashy and sometimes dangerously kinetic direction and editing. Look only to the leaving-party scene in which strobe lighting is used to extraordinary effect, almost suffocating the story below a bombardment on the visual senses. Think of a crossover between the visual energy of the Matrix and the violence of the club scene in Bad Boys.

Cidade De Deus is much more than a directorial assault on the senses. As Raul Walsh said if you don't have a story you have nothing, and many flashy Hollywood films have fallen short in using 'ultra-modern' direction to disguise the fact that no substantial story exists underneath. Cidade De Deus is most brilliant in that it combines directorial and editorial brilliance with a story that is almost second to none in recent times. Only the true greats manage to cater to these two needs of cinema, and this is one that does. The direction is amazing, but not to disguise the story flaws, and the story is brilliant, but does not overwhelm directorial originality. But simply, Cidade De Deus is a perfect film for avid fans of cinematography, and those just in search of two hours of a bloody good story.

I cannot decide yet if I would consider this better than Amores Perros, but it is certainly not inferior. The at-the-same-time stylish and brutal visuals of Amores Perros are replaced by a grittier, more hands on approach to the subject. Whilst in Amores Perros the characters took precedent, in Cidade De Deus the location is as big a character as those who live there. As a result we get a much greater feeling of the environment in which the characters exist, and so it is perhaps easier to empathise, and/or sympathise with them. As the official press synopsis says, Cidade De Deus is a character, but is a place not a person. Amores Perros triumphs in creating relationships between the audience and the characters, as it concentrates for a long time on relatively few people, each of whom we grow to know and ultimately care about, which is important for the emotional impact of the film. Cidade De Deus deals with dozens, even hundreds, of characters, and so it is only a minority that we become attached to. This means that while the film leaves a lasting impact we are not left with the same inquisitiveness about the future for the characters that we meet in Amores Perros. Both films leave open ends, but Cidade De Deus feels closed. Whether you consider this a good or bad thing is a matter for personal choice.

Cidade De Deus is essential viewing, and is cinema at its most brilliant. It will of course feel the wrath of critics who will dwell on the almost unimaginably high body count, but there are always those who will reject violence in the movies. In fact the violence in Cidade De Deus, even the apocalyptic ending, is not as raw and bloody as many will expect. Blood spilling is a rare sight, and the violence rests mostly, but not always, on choreography rather than in your face bloodshed. The result is violence, but it is often so artistic that it looks beautiful rather than deterring. Like Scorsese's Taxi Driver the violence is abhorrent, but admirable from a cinematic perspective.

In short, this is a superb achievement, and is easily one of the best films of the year, and of the decade so far. Like it's predecessors, this is the latest film to come out of South America that indicates the emergence of major new talent in filmmaking. Hollywood beware.

2003-01-08
A Heavy Cloud Over Heaven.
A popular surge swept the land just prior to the 2003 Oscars and "City of God" became a critical success with the Academy. The popularity is somewhat misleading though as this production has tons of problems with its Oscar-nominated script and uneven performances across the board. The setting early is 1960s Rio de Janeiro. A ghetto just outside the city limits is the breeding ground for dangerous gangs of thugs who are little more than adolescents who go around and create chaotic violence. One of these youngsters grows to become Leandro Firmino, a heartless miscreant who toes the line between just being cruel and being down-right psychotic. He is kept somewhat under control by his top assistant Phellipe Haagensen, but in their world both are in as much danger as those that come into contact with them. As all this goes on another youngster (who grows to become Alexandre Rodrigues) from the same neighborhood looks to take a different route completely by trying to become a photographer. Rodrigues, like his contemporaries, also has a life that seems to be on a tight time table. The picture advances to the 1980s and the ultimate fates of the primary characters come shining through in vivid and ironic fashions. Directors Fernando Meirelles (Oscar-nominated in the category) and Katia Lund develop a technologically interesting picture that benefits greatly from landmark cinematography by Oscar-nominee Cesar Charlone and highly difficult editing techniques by Daniel Rezende (also Oscar-nominated). The camera-work is enough to give this film a high mark, but once again the performers are not as good as advertised and the script by Oscar-nominee Braulio Mantovani is unsteady and a bit pretentious. The fact that the tale is based on fact does not really give the picture any more credibility than it would have if it had been from the mind of a foreign screenwriter. The characters are not always believable and are usually not worth caring about. Many problems, but still a noble and overall intriguing product. 4 stars out of 5.
2004-09-17
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