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City Of God

City Of God

By Ben Nicholson • April 27th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Buena Vista International

Original release: May 18th, 2002
Running time: 130 minutes

Country of origin: Brazil
Original language: Portuguese with English subtitles

Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Bráulio Mantovani

Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen, Seu Jorge, Matheus Nachtergaele

Anthony Eden once said “corruption never has been compulsory.” Yet we see in our everyday lives the many ways in which people become corrupt. Most of us will have worked with someone and seen power go to their head; we will have seen people corrupted through desire, greed or envy.

It’s in the resistance of corruption, in its various forms, that we create our heroes and role models.

Step forward Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues). Born into the Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio de Janeiro, and the younger brother to a hoodlum, Rocket is the narrator who takes us through the recent history of the favela in which he lives.

City Of God

Starting in the 1960’s, we see Rocket’s brother Goose (Renato de Souza), along with his two companions, Shaggy (Jonathan Haagensen) and Clipper (Jefechander Suplino), making up the gang the Tender Trio, who effectively rob from the rich and give to the poor of their suburb.

From an early age, Rocket (played as a kid by Luis Otávio) is exposed to a life of crime which he does not partake in, unlike the other young boys he hangs around with, Benny (Michel de Souza) and Li’l Dice (Douglas Silva). He behaves and goes to school and when the action shifts forward about a decade, he is still one step removed from the violent world of the City of God.

Li’l Dice however has grown up to become Li’l Ze (now played by Leandro Firmino). With Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) as his right hand man, he’s the most feared hoodlum in the slum, having wiped out the local drug dealers and taken their patches for himself. Only one dealer, Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele), is allowed to continue dealing, thanks to Benny’s benign influence.

City Of God

Benny is our first real look at sadness of the corruption rained down by the favela, he’s a nice guy who’s liked by everyone. He’s just ridden on Li’l Ze’s psychopathic coattails but finds the criminal world inescapable, even when his girlfriend asks him to leave Rio.

Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge) is another prime example of a good man corrupted by the City of God. After Li’l Ze commits heinous crimes against Ned’s family, the quiet, good looking and tender man falls in with Carrot and a gang war escalates.

We also see young boys and girls pulled into the corrupt gang world and turned into soldiers and a group of street-rats, called ‘Runts’, steal and loot all over the slum. Another character, Thiago (Daniel Zettel), ends up becoming Li’l Ze’s lieutenant in order to feed the monkey on his back.

City Of God

Though many are not directly involved in crime, they support it through drug use while the police supply weapons to the gangs on the side.

Rocket stays clear of everything despite a brief flirtation with crime. Instead, he wants to become a photographer and he gets a job delivering newspapers so he can work his way up. When the newspaper realises Rocket might have access to the City of God, he’s given a possible way in that will swing on getting photographs in the favela.

Directed, acted and shot brilliantly and with great verve, City Of God is a fast-paced period gangster movie in the Rio suburbs. The light and funny moments are regularly juxtaposed with the dark and sad and there is not a second in which the violence is glorified.

It’s about crime and drugs and its insidious effects on a community ravaged by it, but it’s also love and life. Ultimately though, it’s about Rocket and his attempts not to be pulled into the gang world, while also showing us corruption is not compulsory.

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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