City of God Review

In Brazil, there are these neighborhoods called favelas and hundreds of them are in Rio de Janeiro. They're basically a Brazilian variation of slums. Do to the growth of the poor population in Brazil, most favelas really began to pop up around the 1960′s and 70′s. There's was an increase of violence in these neighborhoods and to this day, drug trafficking and shootouts between the police and the drug lords that rule them still happen sometimes. There's one favela based in Rio de Janeiro that has garnered a lot of notoriety over the years. That one favela is called the City of God. It received a ton of attention with the release of the film that carried the same name.
Based on real events and the novel written by Paulo Lins, The film focuses on the rise of organized crime in Rio de Janeiro and one of the drug dealers right in middle of it named Li'l Zé in the late 60′s and all the way into the early 80′s. We see Li'l Zé as a child (Douglas Silva) grow into an adult (Leandro Firmino da Hora). We also get to see Rocket (Luis Otávio/Alexandre Rodrigues) and Zé's childhood friend Bené (Michel de Souza/Phellipe Haagensen) grow up during this same timeframe. "City of God" is shown through the eyes of Rocket, but eventually focuses on the friendship and dealings of Li'l Zé and Bené.
Being best friends, Li'l Zé and Bené are partners in crime with very different approaches. Bené is the more cool and laid-back playboy type and Li'l Zé is about business and he's a man that almost everyone fears. Li'l Zé is the star and primary villain of the film. He goes through his time committing brutal crimes and attempting to completely dominate the drug trade. That creates problems between him and other drug dealers in town and his biggest obstacle is a dealer named Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele). Carrot is such a big problem, because he is also a friend of Bené and that seems to be the only reason Li'l Zé hasn't disposed of him yet.
As I pointed out earlier, Rocket is basically the narrator of the film and has taken a completely different path in life compared to the other two. He decides he wants to become a photographer and that is illustrated throughout. We get to see some of the choices he has to make as he tries to stay on a straight path to his dream. Through him we also meet more people who inhabit his neighborhood and it's surroundings. The film takes you through the lives of these people and several others as they go through life in the City of God.
With the actors, story, and environment working well together, there isn't anything to complain about when it comes down to this film directed by Fernando Meirelles and his co-director Kátia Lund. Everyone did an amazing job. There was even a T.V. series and follow-up movie (both went by the name of "City of Men") based on it. One of the most interesting parts about this movie, is that most of the actors were actual residents of the "City of God" neighborhood. It must have felt special for these normal people to contribute to something of such great quality and substance.
This film takes a harsh look at a reality that so many will never know. It shows graphic violence and other brutalities that can happen in life. There's still work to be done, but it's good to know that Brazil seems to be improving these days. With improving economic growth and apparently trying to bring about racial equality as far as education and jobs are concerned, Brazil seems to be looking up. This film is a look at a part of their past and it's done in a very honest and unfiltered way. Some people felt it was too harsh, but were more than willing to admit it was a great film. "City of God" is certainly something that you should watch if you have the stomach for it. The four Academy Award nominations it received in 2004 backs that opinion.
Score: 9/10
Rating: R
Fernando Meirelles
Kátia Lund (Co-director)
Leandro Firmino
Alexandre Rodrigues
Phellipe Haagensen
Alice Braga
Douglas Silva
Jonathan Haagensen
Matheus Nachtergaele
Seu Jorge
Darlan Cunha
Film Length: 130 minutes
Release dates:
August 30, 2002 (Brazil)
January 7, 2003 (U.S.)
Buena Vista International
Miramax (U.S.)
O2 Filmes
Globo Filmes
Wild Bunch

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