City of God


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Rating: R

Alexandre Rodrigues as Buscapé (Rocket)/Alexandre Rodrigues/Wilson Rodrigues
Leandro Firmino as Zé Pequeño (Li’l Ze)
Phellipe Haagensen as Bené (Benny)
Douglas Silva as Dadinho (Little Dice)
Jonathan Haagensen as Cabeleira (Shaggy)
Matheus Nachtergaele as Sandro Cenoura (Carrot)
Seu Jorge as Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned)
Jefechander Suplino as Alicate
Alice Braga as Angélica
Emerson Gomes as Barbantinho
Edson Oliveira as Barbantinho Adulto
Michel de Souza as Bené Criança
Roberta Rodrigues as Berenice
Luis Otávio as Buscapé Criança

Special Features:
“News From a Personal War” documentary

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
English, French and Spanish Subtitles
Original Brazilian Portuguese Language Track
Running Time: 130 minutes

“City of God” is based on a true story.

This film tells the tale of two boys in the 60’s and 70’s who grew up in Rio de Janeiro’s notorious slum called “City of God”. Both spent time around thieves and hoodlums as children and followed their lead. Despite this, ‘Rocket’ aspired to becoming a professional photographer. Meanwhile, Li’l Ze aspired to becoming the most feared gangster in the slum.

As the two became teenagers, both were surrounded by drugs, crime, and murder. While Rocket dabbled in drug dealing and robbery, Li’l Ze became a vicious murderer. He also murdered all of the other drug dealers in the slum and took over their territories.

Under Li’l Ze’s control, the slum becomes peaceful for a time, but Ze’s violent nature eventually ignites a bloody war between the slum’s rival gangs. It’s against this violent backdrop that Rocket gets a job as a photographer for the local paper. As a resident of the slum, he’s able to go where nobody else can. But what will happen when Lil’l Ze’s attention is turned to Rocket’s new job as a reporter?

‘City of God’ is rated R for strong brutal violence, sexuality, drug content and language.

The Movie:
“City of God” is a movie I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to see, but after viewing it I was quite impressed with it. The film is beautifully shot, it features a compelling story, and it has some of the most honest acting I’ve seen in quite a while. It also puts the spotlight on a major problem in one of the world’s biggest cities.

Unfortunately, the film’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. “City Of God” is an extremely disturbing film. Murders are shown left and right and it quickly becomes apparent that the people have no value for human life. Rape seems like a minor crime and drug abuse is socially acceptable. Children are shown sporting guns and writing death lists. In one scene that has haunted me well after viewing the film, a child is threatened by Li’l Ze and screams in terror as he is shot and then threatened with death. It’s a perfect example of how the movie brutally portrays the grim reality of life in the slum, but at the same time is so realistic to the point of being a turn off. This film is not for people that lack strong stomachs. To show the violence any less would be a disservice to the message the movie is trying to get across, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

Disturbing images aside, the film is beautifully shot. Directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund set up impressive scenes that make every frame of the film look like a professional photograph. There are also interesting camera shots and artistic moments that help elevate the level of the film.

The acting is also excellent, especially considering that most of the actors were pulled off of the street and had no previous experience. Alexandre Rodrigues, who plays Rocket, is a great lead for the film. He’s a sympathetic hero that you can identify with even when he’s commiting crimes. In fact, you almost don’t think twice about him robbing people or waving a gun around because it’s necessary for him to do in order to survive in the slum. The second half of his story as he becomes a “war zone” photographer is also an interesting and engaging twist in his tale. It ends up being a great commentary on photojournalism though it’s only the last part of the film. Also excellent is Leandro Firmino who plays Li’l Ze. He delivers a very realistic performance and ends up being one of the most memorable movie villains to come along in quite a while. What makes him scary is the fact that everything he did was real. Every murder, rape, and robbery was the real thing. It’s even more disturbing when you see him corrupting and even murdering children. But what’s baffling is the fact that many people in the slum idolize him for bringing a relative peace to the neighborhood despite all of his other crimes. Also notable in the cast are Phellipe Haagensen as Benny, Matheus Nachtergaele as Carrot, and Seu Jorge as Knockout Ned.

From what I understand, this film ended up prompting social reform in Brazil, and that’s an admirable thing. It does a good job of showing how this kind of violence is part of an endless cycle and that the children of the slum learn at an early age to kill or be killed. You can’t help but want to do something about it after seeing the film. “City of God” was also nominated for Oscars for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Writing. The nominations were well deserved (though the film got shut out by Lord of the Rings).

Besides the darker side of the movie, it is also a good taste of a different side of Brazilian life. The country is shown to be rich in culture as well as having a wide variety of races. What little is shown of the countryside is also beautiful. (That being said, I don’t want to get lost in this neighborhood if I’m ever in Rio.) “City of God” also features a good soundtrack that has a wide range of music from the 60’s and 70’s.

The only other downside of the film is that fact that it is quite long. Being subjected to such heavy material for so long wears on you after a while and that becomes the case even more as it runs over 2 hours. But “City of God” is still very much worth checking out if you think you can handle it.

The Extras:
There is only one extra included on this DVD. I was hoping for a documentary showing how the movie compared with the real life events it depicted, but that wasn’t the case. Instead we are treated to a documentary entitled “News From a Personal War”. This film, shot in the late 90’s, discusses the real crime problems in the real Rio de Janeiro slums. There are interviews with real cops, real drug dealers, and real residents of the slum. All of them say why they’re the good guy, none of them realizing that they are contributing to the problems the city faces. The filmmakers boldly go into the slums for the interviews and you quickly learn that it’s everybody vs. the cops. The slum residents seem to favor the drug dealers because they help them out here and there more than they hurt them. I suppose when you live in that kind of environment, you’ll take any help you can get. Though I wish there were more extras relating to the movie, this is a decent substitute.

The Bottom Line:
“City Of God” is a well made, compelling story featuring good acting and cinematography, but the harsh subject matter will be a big turnoff for some viewers. Approach with caution.