City of God (Cidade de Deus) Review
Director: Fernando Meirelles
If you have ever given a thought to the problems with drug traficking and urban violence in Latin American countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Brazil you'll know what themes this film will be threating, but even if you have stopped a moment and given to consideration of this, and later on you come across this film you'll be shocked anyway because of the violence and the poverty that can arise in the favellas of Brazil. Director Fernando Meirelles wonderfully tells this story about the urban violence in thrid world countries, giving the audience a shocking view to the world of poverty and drug traficking, while at the same time delivering what has become now one of last decade's masterpieces.
Right now, Mexico and Colombia are the world's biggest exporters of drugs like cocaine and heroin, but in Brazil this is a really big problem too, as it is depicted in City of God. City of God is a suburb in Rio de Janeiro, where crime is increasing alarmantly fast. The story is told through the eyes of the narrator only known as Rocket. Rocket tells the story of the many problems and drug wars they have in City of God. Starting with the story of the Tender Trio, a crime group comformed by three young men including Rocket's older brother, Rocket tells the story of criminal underworld in City of God. We meet characters such as Li'l Ze (formerly known as Li'l Dice), a psychopathic drug lord and patron of most of City of God who audience can relate with Tommy DeVito from Goodfellas, Knockout Ned, a handsome ladiesman who joins forces with other mobster as Li'l Ze rapes his girlfriend and murders members of his family, Benny, Li'l Ze's charming best friend described as "the coolest gangaster in City of God", as well as many other interesting and deep characters, memebers of the crime business that plagues Rio de Janeiro.
Many critics compared this upon its release with Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, and it is easy to see from where the comparison is coming from, but I'd say it is more than simply the Brazilian version of Goodfellas. It has also resemblances to other gangster films such as Pulp Fiction and The Departed (though the latter was released after this film was). I'd even further argue that it might be superior to this films I've mentioned. It is hard to draw comparisons, but if you take a couple of minutes of your day to make some of these, you might reach the same conclusion that I have. I intend to explain this reasons on the following pargraphs, as well as explaining the aspects that makes this film work by itself.
To give this film even more praise, I'll say it is the best foreign film of the last decade. Yes, better than Pan's Labyrinth, Let the Right One In, Amelie, Downfall or any other foreign film from the ones I've seen. Even better, this film might possibly be as well the best film overall of the last decade. It has to beat such films like The Lord of the Rings and No Country for Old Men, but I'd say this little low budget Brazilian masterpiece gives these films a very fair fight.
I'll get to comparing this film with the other gangster movies i've mentioned before first. So this film has been compared to Goodfellas, and I myself consider it to have similarities with Pulp Fiction, The Departed and maybe Reservoir Dogs. Sometimes, two or more movies are so great they are very hard to compare, but I'll make an effort for the sake of this review.
The most obvious comparison is to Goodfelllas. Both films tell the story of the rise of small time gangsters, both have a psychopath for a central character, and both films feature an amount of bloodshed. That aside, it has little other similar features to Scorsese's film. Goodfellas tells a rather optimistic view to the crime world, while City of God shows a very cruel but realistic one. Also, City of God's themes might go even deeper than the ones from Goodfellas do, plus the ones from the Brazilian film may work better, giving a more shocking but at the same time efficient work. Thanks to this, I think this might be superior to Goodfellas, but then again it is just my humble opinion.
I also made comparisons to Pulp Fiction and The Departed. Both Pulp Fiction and City of God use non-linear story telling (though it varies more in Pulp Fiction) and tell different stories, as well as being violent and thought provoking, but other than this they don't share many similarities, so maybe that is why the critics didn't take much time comparing them. With The Departed, both films tell the story of three individuals, with two being gangsters and one caught in the middle of the violence, and both have a psychopath as the main antagonist. I also think that City of God is superior to these two other films, by the same reasons I have given with Goodfellas. And many will disagree, but I am sticking with my opinion.
This film also works as a whole, a single film, without drawing any further comparisons. Part of why it does, and probably the most part, is Fernando Meirelles excellent direction. The film is extremely well shot. Meirelles truly captures the world of the favellas in a way that will shock and amaze the viewer. He manages to get every of his actors to do their job. He manages to take the also excellent screenplay into the screen without sacrificing it, and also directs the actors into their amazing performances, while at the same time setting the perfect mood for the film and executing the themes wonderfully, recreating the environment of the crime underworld. No wonder why he was nominated for the Academy Award, and though he lost to Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings, he still did an excellent job, well deservant of the nomination.
Other aspect that I really liked was the cinematography. Its shaky and intense, but it is also wonderful and breathtaking. If it had been steady cam it wouldn't have been as effective, it wouldn't have been able to capture all of the action, to keep the pace of what is going on. Its an excellent camerawork that also ended in an unsuccessful nomination, but still deservant of the mention.
Other factors deserving to be mentioned are the writing and acting. Each character is well thought and executed by the screenwriter and actor, giving the emotion it displays. The writing is incredible, the situations, dialogues and characters are excellently written with the most careful job. The story is mesmerizing and absorbing, taking the audience from their seat and dragging them into the world of City of God. And the acting is wonderful too. My favorite player has to be of course Leandro Firminio da Hora, who plays Li'l Ze. His psychopathic character wouldn't have worked if it wasn't for him. He got into his character, under his skin and inside his mind, thinking and acting all the time like Li'l Ze, mastering all the scenes he appeared in. A scene stealer, definitely. The other players, such Seu Jorge and Phelippe Haagensen, were wonderful in their roles too, as well as the rest of the cast, all suiting to their characters as if they were clothes.
But what's most memorable about the film is its themes and view of the crime world at Rio de Janeiro. We see kids, many of them under 13, murdering, robbing, smoking, snorting, etc. Just like one of them said "I have robbed, killed, I smoke and snort... I'm a man". That don't make them a man, but the only belief that it did made them do further damage, and this made the film more disturbing all along. But they were pushed into this world because of the poverty they live in, making the picture even more heartbreaking. It is a very crude but realistic view, alas this is actually happening.
Being compared to Goodfellas, resembling to films like Pulp Fiction and The Departed, being hailed as one of the best of the last decade, employing perfect use of cinematography, matching direction with acting and writing, and using compelling and disturbing themes, this is a film that will be very hard to forget. It is an excellent film, doing everything it tries to do right, becoming another gangster masterpiece such as the ones previously mentioned are.
My score: A Perfect 100.
My recommendation: Even if it might be too strong for the faing of heart, I think everyone must see it.
A true masterpiece, probably the best film of the last decade and one of the best films released in the last 20 years. Among the 30 best of all times.