Worth A Look: 13.45%
Just Average: 1.68%
Pretty Crappy: 2.52%
5 reviews, 89 user ratings
|City of God
by MP Bartley
It's very easy to compliment one great film by comparing it to another, especially when it's an overseas flick. 'Amores Perros' is the Mexican 'Pulp Fiction'. 'Battle Royale' is the Japanese 'A Clockwork Orange'. And now comes this South American belter being hailed as the descendent of Scorsese's mafia classic. But it deserves it's own praise. Praise up to the heavens.Yes, there are similarities to 'Goodfellas'. Both deal with the characters introduction to crime at a very early age and carries on through their lives, and a voice-over propels the narrative of both. But this is a film that is in a class all of its own.
"The Brazilian 'Goodfellas'? It's better then that."
Set in the Brazilian slums the story is seen through the eyes of Rocket, a would be photographer. We first see him as a 10 year old (Luis Otavio). He is in awe of his older brother Shaggy who is one of the chief bandits in the area. Also growing up with Rocket is Li'l Dice (Douglas Silva) a hyperactive, manicial kid, who just doesn't want to admire the gangsters, he wants to be one. He's introduced into the gang, with terrible results.
After a chain of events have been set off we zip forward to the 1970's where Rocket (now Alexandre Rodrigues) is still dreaming of a better life, but Li'l Dice is no more. He's grown up into Li'l Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora) the most bloodthirsty, fearsome man around and he wants sole control of the City of God. The war he then wages at those all round him propels the rest of the story. Also caught up in these events is the placid best friend of Li'l Ze, Benny (Phelipe Haagensen), local drug dealer Carrot, Knockout Ned a street toughman and the Runts, the next generation of kids growing up into crime.
I'm going to say no more about the plot to save all the surprises that 'City of God' has in store. And it has surprises. Snapping from one story to the next, casually disposing of characters, introducing new ones, disposing of those, it's a kinetic narrative that leaves the audience breathless.
This is one of those films that has something for everyone. You just want entertainment for the next two hours of your life? Just get caught up in the gang warfare and the pace of a film that never, ever drags.
You're a film student? Well there's enough razzle-dazzle editing, gritty cinematogrophy, and narrative tricks to make Michael Bay, Simon West, Raja Gosnell etc cry. It's 'look-ma-no-hands!' film-making, but crucially there's content to back up the style.
You want intellectual stimulation? Try figuring out who the villains are in 'City of God'. Yes, Li'l Ze is brutal, ruthless and psychotic. But he rules with such an iron fist that rogue criminals aren't allowed and as such the popluation remain largely unthreatened by him. The government? Nowhere to be seen. The police? Taking pay-offs from Li'l Ze is all they ever do.
And there's incident a-plenty that ranges from killingly funny (Bennys transformation from casual drug dealer to flyboy disco king), to devastatingly brutal (the treatment of an adulterous wife) to what simply amounts to stunning cinema (a nightclub sequence that is a masterclass in editing). And an early contender for scene of the year is made in the treatment handed out to two Runts caught thieving by Li'l Ze...
And acting? Try this, all the actors are first-time amateurs taken from auditions by people from the area and there isn't one weak link among them. There isn't even a mediocre link.
Rodrigiues is an instantly likeable focal point for the audience, making wry comments on proceedings and every small player fills their parts. Stars of the show however are Silva and da Hora as Li'l Dice and Li'l Ze. Silva has the seemingly impossible task of pulling off a murderous child and making it scary and disturbingly believable. Haley Joel Osment, hang your head in shame. Silva's so good he should be Oscar's shortlist for Supporting Actor.
And da Hora is awesome as the spitting, venomous killer every bit as psychotic as Pesci in 'Goodfellas'. The kind of character that actually engenders fear in the audience every time he's on screen. You never know when he's going to snap and at whom. If it's Silva for Supporting Actor, it's da Hora for Best Actor.
Actually this should be on the Oscar shortlist for everything. Director Meirelles makes it feel like he's ran onto the streets, followed these gangs around for years, and then just filmed whatever he's seen. It's that raw, it's that vital. And it's never condescending or judgemental. These characters behave as they do, because they have nothing else to do. But Meirelles has no time for pondering the politics of Brazil. He's too busy giving us a snapshot of what life is like on the real edge of survival. The only judgement he makes is a silent one, as the last few minutes show what a cycle of destruction these people live in.'City of God' burns itself onto the screen and onto your memory, like nothing else. If we get another three films this year that are anywhere near as good as this, it'll be a premium year for film. You need to see this.
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originally posted: 01/13/03 12:37:18
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.