City of God (2002) Review

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RATING: 4.5/5

SPOILERS

The life of gangs and violence in the neighborhood of Cidade de Deus (City of God) is shown here, spanning over the course of three decades.

“If you run, the beast catches. If you stay, the beast eats.” This tagline is summed up perfectly in the film’s opening scene involving the chicken. The chicken is surrounded by horror and it has two options to do. Either stay to be food or run to avoid being eaten. It translates very well to people who live in places filled with lots of crime. One can either try to escape from the violence or one can accept it and be apart of the gangs. That is something that many characters in the movie struggle with, in order to survive life. But as the tagline suggests, whichever route one takes, there will be consequences that will come forth in the future. A person should choose very wisely which road to take and think if that is the right choice to make for his or herself.

If there are two words to describe this film, it would be intense and dark. Again, the opening scene with the chicken really establishes the tone, themes, editing, film style, and the energy that is delivered throughout the movie.

When first watching this movie, I thought I was going to hate the film’s editing. Due to it being fast-paced and there being lots of quick cuts. I thought there would be a problem with not calming down to focus steadily. But the more I watched it, the more I understood the choice of this editing and the overall style/format of the movie. The way the film is shot and edited felt like I was watching a documentary of sorts. A documentary of how gangs evolve in Cidade de Deus.

The camera movement can at many points be shaky and it can get up close on the subjects. The film appears dirty and grainy. Which is great for a film like this that is trying to feel real to the viewer. Violence is brought full force whenever the guns start firing off. There is no holding back for who gets hurts. Not only for the gang members but also for innocent bystanders, including children. The color aesthetic switch from the sixties (yellow, orange) to the seventies/eighties (blue, black) is a nice touch. It shows that crime life can evolve into something more gruesome and deadly over time.

Going back to the film’s fast-paced, it may seem like that due to the narrator (Rocket) explaining, in documentary format, many important details pertaining to the characters or Cidade de Deus itself. The narrator is spouting quite of bit of information at certain points and it can be little hard to concentrate. But one will get in tune with the pace as the film goes along.

Speaking of characters, the film has an ensemble of characters that are, for the most part, not people you want to root in a good light. A lot of them are bad people. But they are nonetheless, very interesting characters to watch. It is fascinating seeing the development of the characters as they were kids in the sixties and now grown up in the seventies. I think it is really cool for the directors of the film, Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund, to cast actors who lived in the local favelas (slums) in Brazil. This is another thing that adds a sense of realism. These actors are people who lived through the real-life crime world of their homeland. For many, this is the first major movie that they starred in and their performances were all around great. The adults, teens, and the children actors/actresses did a really good job in their acting.

I mentioned earlier on how crime evolves, well this delves into one of the film’s themes. Which is that things are part of a never-ending, ever-changing cycle. The sixties starts off as “tame” and came off as “harmless” fun for criminals. The seventies is an age where murder is the way to show who is the big boss. Over the course, the generations who are wishing to take over are getting younger and younger after a decade passes. The world will become more dangerous as future generations get younger with weapons that will get deadlier. Even though that is changing, the parallels/similarities are always going to be around.

Aside from this film being about crime, it is also a coming-of-age story. There is Rocket, who is one of the few characters that doesn’t want to enter in the crime life. At times he wants to, in order to get better recognition. But he decides not to, as he doesn’t want to have the same trigger-happy attitude as Lil Ze. There is Lil Ze, whose sole purpose in life is wanting power and nothing else. Power in all fronts through any violent and cruel means. There is Benny, Lil Ze’s best friend, who wants to escape the crime world and live a normal life with his girlfriend. But that cycle hits Benny tragically, much like with his older brother years prior.

The environment of Cidade de Deus is very diverse not only in the people but also in the different and unique locations. The city feels alive and thriving.

One negative I do have with the film is that there wasn’t a whole lot of emotional resonance from the actions taking place. I think with the film’s editing going back forth with many and many characters throughout, there wasn’t one to latch onto. There is Rocket, but even so, it seems the film would like to focus on the life of crime in the gangs depicted. Which is great, but it would be nice to make one actually care for certain characters for what is happening. I feel like the film needs more slow moments and to let things dial back a bit in order for the emotions to sink in.

On a lighter side, thanks to this film, I know how to sell drugs and work my way to the top. Wonderful!

“City of God” is a great movie. The documentary-style approach truly delivers in a film that feels real, has a diverse cast of characters, the technical aspects are very well done, the themes are presented nicely, and it is definitely one should see right now. Just be mindful of the violence because it can get intense from time to time.