Man of the Year, The (2003)

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 05/04/03 02:00:45

"MAN OF THE YEAR - Pistols, Peroxide, and a Pet Pig"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Like the recent and much touted CITY OF GOD (which I still need to get out and see), MAN OF THE YEAR is another look at the ultra-violent reality of modern-day urban Brazil. But while it uses stylized violence as its currency, it also blunts much of that violence through some clever and judicious editing.

Murilo Benicio gives a brooding performance as Maquiel, a guy who thinks of himself as just another jobless loser in a city full of them. He thinks himself ugly, to the point of hating to look at himself in a mirror. He’s a man without much hope, but who hasn’t quite gotten desperate enough for crime . . . yet.

However, his life suddenly changes when he goes into a local salon to have his hair dyed platinum blonde – his punishment for having lost a soccer bet. Much to his astonishment, he loves the new look and instantly feels like someone else. He is suddenly so filled with confidence that he asks the gorgeous girl who dyed his hair, Cledir (Claudia Abreu) out on an impromptu date. Smitten with his smoldering looks, she agrees. He takes her to the bar, where he plans to show off both her and his new hairstyle to his buddies. But when a local thug named Suel makes fun of his hair and calls him a “puto,” Maquiel’s machismo kicks into overdrive. He goes to a nearby gun store, buys a rifle, and goes after the thug for revenge. He ends up gunning Suel down in front of his underage girlfriend (Natalia Lage).

At first, Maquiel is terrified of being arrested or shot in retaliation by one of Suel’s people. But on the contrary, the entire neighborhood is thrilled by Suel’s demise. Even the cops merely pat him on the back and say “good job.” The locals praise Maquiel as a hero and shower him with gifts, including a rather amusing piglet that Maquiel names “Bill” (after former president Clinton), and adopts as a pet. However, he gets another pet he wasn’t counting on when Suel’s teenage sex-kitten girlfriend shows up and demands that Maquiel take her in and support her since “Suel took care of me, and you killed him”. Naturally, she decides to do this right around the time that Cledir shows up with news that she’s pregnant and can’t wait to get married in the coming spring.

Suddenly, Maquiel finds himself with everything he thought he wanted thrust upon. A beautiful wife and kid on the way, a sexy just-underage mistress on the side, and a job and respect in the community. However, when other influential locals began to approach him and offer him money or favors for executing street criminals who have wronged them, Maquiel finds himself becoming an assassin for hire living more than one double life.

While the level of violence seems like something out of some dark fable, director Jose’ Henrique Fonseca assures the audience that it is real. When asked during the Q & A how far the violence in his film is from the reality of the streets of Rio De Janiero, the answer is “Not far at all. The violence of the culture is astounding. I was mugged at least five times while I lived there. Everyone gets mugged or robbed – rich and poor. The supermarkets actually have to hire groups of armed bandits to provide security against other bandits.” Like Goodfellas or Scarface, Man of the Year is another film about the charming criminal who comes to have it all, only to stand in grave peril of losing everything. And while the script is a tad formulaic at times, it is bolstered by Benicio’s powerhouse performance which reminds one of a young Antonio Banderas (before he started doing all the crap). Abreu’s performance is also good, although she mostly seems to be there to provide the stock “bitchy gangster’s wife” character and a pair of very large breasts. As for Lage’, she brings a sexy and alluring edge to her streetwise character who becomes Maquiel’s mistress in crime, only to find God with a local preacher and become imbued with the desire to repent of their sins – whether Maquiel wants to or not.

Winner of the festival’s SKYY prize (a nice $10,000 chunk o’ change from the SKYY vodka people that has probably already gone towards paying back investors), MAN OF THE YEAR is one of a number of recently released films which address the harrowing violence of the Brazilian culture. An intriguing narrative and strong performances make MAN OF THE YEAR worth two hours of your day.

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