City of God aka. Cidade de Deus (Brazil - 2002) - Review

Language - Portugese
Genre - Drama, Crime
Release - 2007

City of God (aka Cidade de Deus)- Poster
City of God - Poster
For a lot of people, common viewers and critics alike, Cidade de Deus (City of God) is the best Brazilian movie of all time and one of the greatest movies ever. Some of the notable achievements and critical acclaim of the movie are
  • Ranked No#19 on IMDB all time top 250 movies list
  • Four Oscar nominations
  • TIME - One of the 100 greatest movies of all time
  • Empire - 117th Best film of all time (in 2007)
  • Empire (again!) - 7th in The 100 Best Films of World Cinema list(in 2010),
and the list goes on...

With the credentials as above, it's impossible not to have grand expectations as you prepare to watch the movie. Whether it meets your expectations or not, you are bound to be left amazed, jarred, thrilled, and of course, impressed, with this acclaimed masterpiece. Based on true events, Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund directed this masterpiece that revolves around the troubling growth of organized crime in a Fevela in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro known as Cidade De Deus (City of God), during the decades of 1960s and 1970s. To add to the authenticity of the film, the movie was shot in Favelas and most of the actors were from there as well. The movie is narrated by the protagonist 'Rocket'(Alexandre Rodrigues), an honest young boy growing up in Cidade de Deus who dreams of becoming a photographer one day. The movie depicts important characters and events that chronicle the violent upsurge of small time hoodlums and their journey towards becoming big-time gangsters who ruled and terrorized the Favela (Cidade de Deus), and the fight for control amongst them.

City of God - Tender trio gang
"Tender Trio Gang"
Though never involved in any criminal activities himself, Rocket usually finds himself in dangerous situations or in close associations with gangsters, starting with being the younger brother of a member of the 'tender trio' gang (3 teenagers from the Favela indulging in small crimes). Also involved in the tender trio gang (though not a member) is a young kid named Lil' Dice (Douglas Silva) who comes up with a plan to raid a motel and rob it's occupants. Later on into the movie, L'il Dice goes on to become L'il Z, a violent trigger-happy gangster who eliminates all the drug dealers and becomes a ruler of the favela. These opening scenes provide a insight into the poverty, unemployment and impoverishment prevalent in the Favela which forces the children to take up crime as the only way to achieve upward social mobility.

City of God - still
Rocket's first crush
The first half of the movie is basically a coming-of-age gangster drama, but more violent and disturbing that most movies I have seen. It is a somewhat jarring experience to see young kids wielding guns and indulging in violent activities without any sense of remorse, and the knowledge that the movie is based on true events simply makes it more dramatic. As the movie progresses, it gets more violent and the body-count increases dramatically as the grown up L'il Dice (rechristened as L'il Z) eliminates all the competition with the exception of a fellow gangster 'Carrot' (I have a feeling that the funny nick-names have to do with the English translation). Also in the mix is Benny, the childhood friend and partner of L'il Z who believes more in making love than war. With circumstances leading to Benny's departure from L'il Z's life, L'il Z is free of restraints and turns into a sociopath monster and decides to wipe out Carrot and assume complete control and the movie takes it's most violent turn. The chaotic gang-war between L'il Z and Carrot is portrayed at it's chaotic best and can rival CoD Black-Ops for body-count-per-second.

City of God - Gang War
In the turf-war, Carrot is accompanied by an ex-armed forces soldier named 'Knock-out' Ned who's out for revenge. A peace-loving and good-looking man, Ned is the envy of L'il Z. Succumbing to his sociopath desires, L'il Z rapes and kills Ned's girlfriend and then also kills his uncle and brother. Carrot exploits Knock-out's desire for revenge and persuades him to be a part of the gang. 'Knock-out' Ned's tale provides a different perspective on gangsters who turn to violence forced by circumstances rather than for the sake of greed or sociopath desires.

Though nearly a decade old, the direction is refreshing and is technically brilliant. Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund smartly tie together the stories of a multitude of characters and the overlapping events in their lives and put forward a very coherent tale. In spite of it's exhilarating pace, it achieves a great depth in character details and efficiently captures all the nuances of the plot elements. Cidade de Deus is a staggering masterpiece all the way through; from a brilliant start to an exciting finish.