It’s impossible to deny a movie’s greatness when it both accurately and captivatingly depicts the lives of its subjects, as well as the culture they live in. If The Godfather and Goodfellas do this for the Italian and mob community, then City of God is The Godfather and Goodfellas of the Brazilian favela society.
Shot with more kinetic energy then any movie since, City of God looks like a real time documentary illuminating the harsh, sometimes feel good, but mostly harsh landscape that was the gang controlled slums of Brazil during the 70s. It feels as if you are being dragged right into the heart of the action. I didn’t ask for that kind of manhandling but it’s okay, I guess.
The shooting is not only superb in style, but in what the shooting is capturing. The portrayal of lives of multiple people caught up gang life—in one way or another—provides a stark look into the unavoidable void that is crime. Some crave it and fall through their own hubris; some choose it out of revenge and get what’s coming to them; others choose to watch through a lens, thrust into the middle of things. Either way you’re gonna have to deal with it, so suck it up.
There isn’t a single story that isn’t immensely engaging or remotely useless. The stories of crime lord Lil Ze, his partner Benny, revenged-fueled Knockout Ned and the morally challenged Rocket who is confronted at all sides blend together seamlessly. No one is wasted, and even ancillary characters have their place.
As well as being a grim crime tale, forcing the audience to see things they wouldn’t dream about (like when small children are forced to pick to be shot either in their hand or foot) it’s also quite funny and sometimes even sweet.
Knowing that a lot of the story involves teens, director Fernando Meirelles never forgets to have moments of genuine tenderness as friends enjoy the beach, a dance party or just in each others company. Granted, this all before either dying or having to watch someone else die but, like I said, it all blends very well.
These stories are infused with a lot of disturbing, intense sequences, but the movie itself never forgets the innocence of its subjects (if only ever at one point in their lives). City of God is both a staggering crime drama and riveting coming of age story. In short it’s a perfect movie. Absolutely. F-ing. Perfect.