Directed By: Fernando Meirelles
Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Matheus Nachtergaele, Leandro Firmino
Tag line: "If you run you're dead...if you stay, you're dead again. Period"
Trivia: Seu Jorge, who plays the character Knockout Ned, is a samba-soul singer with cult-status in Brazil. One of his songs can be found on the City of God soundtrack
Simultaneously shocking and breathtaking, Fernando Meirelles’ City of God is a unique motion picture in that it keeps our eyes glued firmly to the screen, even as our sensibilities are telling us it would be much better to turn the other way.
City of God is a true story, recounting the exploits of criminals and drug lords who ruled the slums of Rio de Janeiro for the better part of two decades. Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) is a photographer and aspiring journalist who, with his camera at his side, took it upon himself to document the turbulent history of a specific section of Rio, a place known to the locals as the “City of God”. Gang fights, some of which involve semi-automatic weapons, make walking the streets a danger, and drug lords crawl over the bodies of their rivals to rise to the top. Yet none was as volatile, as lethal to the citizens of this area as Lil’ Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora), a killer who started young, and went on to become the deadliest gangster the City of God has ever known. But even Lil’ Ze had his problems maintaining control, and before long, he grew suspicious of everyone around him, including his closest friends. And as many who live in the City of God know, suspicions like these often lead to murder.
The fact City of God is based in reality makes it all the more disturbing. I’ve seen poverty and crime depicted in countless movies over the years, yet seldom has either been quite as uncompromising as in this film. While director Meirelles crafts City of God with a fair amount of cinematic flair, never once does it detract from the brutality of what we're witnessing; the stylish, slow motion shootouts and 360 degree pans are, instead, used to expose the awful truth that lies at the heart of this story. In its 130 minutes, City of God takes us in many directions, and through it all, remains very, very real.
Since the start of the new millennium, Brazil has given the world a number of excellent motion pictures. Movies like Carandiru, director Hector Babenco’s true account of a prison riot that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 inmates in 1992, and Jose Padilha’s Bus 174, a documentary about a man who took an entire busload of people hostage in Rio in 2000, have succeeded in exposing the effects of a depressed social and economic society on those unfortunate souls left to deal with it on a daily basis. Like City of God, these films can be tough to watch, and the urge to look away may strike you more than once as you do so.
But trust me when I tell you looking away will not be an option with City of God. Rarely has violence ever been this captivating.