City Of God

on January 17, 2003 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Paulo Lins, "City of God" is a thrilling drama about the rise and fall of gangsters and drug dealers in Rio de Janeiro's slums. That many of them are children, ranging in age from nine to 14, is just one of the many shocking aspects of this movie, which, like "The Sopranos," manages to strike notes of black comedy amidst the horror. Turning on a dime from drama to humor is never easy, and rare in the movies, but director Fernando Meirelles displays so much technical control that he pulls off virtually anything he sets his mind to.

Divided into chapters and spanning two decades from the '60s to the '80s, the film has a nominal "hero," the honest Rocket (Alexandro Rodrigues), a budding photojournalist who's avoided the criminal life but is connected, in various ways, to many of the hoodlums who reside, like him, in the slum known sarcastically as the City of God. He's the link between the movie's opening and closing but, if there's a stand-out character in "City of God," it's the 14-year-old killer Little Ze (Leandro Firmino de Hora). A vicious murderer who hates almost everyone, this frightening killing machine, as rendered in de Hora's intense personfication, is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Uncompromising in its realism--many of the actors were non-professionals, recruited from Rio's slums--and offering no quarter to anyone, including the cops, who are all depicted as uncaring and corrupt, "City of God" is, nonetheless, exhilarating movie-making. It's in love with life even as so many of its protagonists die. The film eventually runs out of steam--with so much energy expended on screen, how could it not?--but it never fails to impress. It's a remarkable achievement. Starring Alexandro Rodrigues, Matheus Nachtergaele and Leandro Firmino de Hora. Directed by Fernando Meirelles. Written by Braulio Mantovani. Produced by Andrea Barata Ribeiro and Mauricio Andrade Ramos. A Miramax release. Drama. Portuguese-language; subtitled. Rated R for strong brutal violence, sexuality, drug content and language. Running time: 136 min

Tags: Alexandro Rodrigues, Matheus Nachtergaele, Leandro Firmino de Hora, Fernando Meirelles, Braulio Mantovani, Andre Barata Riberio, Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Miramax, Drama, black comedy, hero, criminal, Brazil, slums

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