Genre: Crime, Drama
Colour, 130 Minutes
Verdict: City of God with its rocket-like pacing is one of the best cinematic achievements of the 21st century and has accessibility allowing many people to relate and love the film. With grand young performances, flawless editing and fantastically shot cinematography, the film stands among the all-time greats.
Plot: Based on a true story, we initially follow a boy nicknamed ‘Rocket’, who lives in a Brazilian housing project through the 60’s to the early 80’s and his friend Lil Dice/Lil Ze. Along the way, the story through flashbacks and jumps in time, we see his encounters with gangs, drug dealers, sex, violence, conflict and friendship as well as several character introductions and action.
The film combines a style of Quentin Tarantino and drug dealing trope movies to create something of a modern masterpiece. It is clear that director and writer, Fernando Meirelles has referenced and saluted to Tarantino’s movie due to its narrative structure and with one of the young vast members resembling Jules in Pulp Fiction. By looking at the image below, it will be clear for anyone who has seen Pulp Fiction.
|The Samuel L. Jackson look-a-like.|
Furthermore, it takes the Tarantino style and the feel of a teenage drug-dealing film and gives itself a unique presence. There are films that show innovative editing to tell the story, but here the editing is simply phenomenal. From split-screen narratives to jump cuts between shots, the editing makes the film more exciting.
The editing is one of the reasons that the film is so great. In my opinion, City of God shows us just how good modern filmmaking can get, thanks to the digital age that even I have been hard on in recent years. The performances in the film, from mainly a young cast, were impressive, realistic, gritty and engaging. While the film is not a deep character study, or feature comlplex characterisation, the film captures the gangs and drug dealers universally, showing groups of these people committing serious acts of crime to survive. The film initially follows the character ‘Rocket’, but the film is not about him- it is about everyone we see. Rocket stands out as a character that gets lucky through the various things he encounters. Rocket is the character with the most development and Alexandre Rodrigues, who played Rocket, definitely showed talent giving the character plenty of edge and heart.
The performances we see from the entire cast are so surprisingly great, it has to be said that they show some of the finest modern performances in people under the age of 25 (on the most part). In addition, the fact that this entire cast are unknown, but give such strong performances as if they have had many years of on-set experience. It is clear that director Fernando Meirelles has controlled his actors with care and truly got performances out of his youthful cast.
Another character who stands out is Rocket's friend Lil’ Ze (played by Leandro Firmino da Hora), who is the film’s main antagonist that represents the truly horrible and cynical drug-dealing gangster. From the moment we meet this character, we know he is trouble.
After the film’s introduction scene set in the 80’s, we see Lil Ze as a kid, played by Douglas Silva. Here, we can see that from the very beginning he was a horrible, sociopathic and sadistic person who takes pleasure in killing his rivals. One scene to note his sadistic cynicism is when we see him entering a house and killing over five people, laughing (something of a psycho). This character we see in constant conflict with his surroundings, and his success in the business. However, he is very much alone, as we hear one of his friends even saying, “You need to get a girlfriend”
The character who says this is called, Benny, played by Phellipe Haagensen, who is also a notable performance. Benny does not come into the plot until about 60 minutes in, but his character has some significance to the plot in which I will not go into in detail. Haagensen drives the character as the honest character just trying to do right.
The cinematography is dark, glum, pessimistic and visually capturing. Its depiction of 60’s, 70’s and 80’s slum-like Brazillian housing estates is nothing short of astonishing. Therefore, thumbs up to cinematographer Cesar Charleone. The screenplay was excellently written by Bráulio Mantovani, has taken the source material, and made it into a fleshed-out film. Fernando Meirelles is without a doubt a very fine director, but it seems since City of God he has not made anything near as critically successful as this. Perhaps soon he will make another astonishing piece of work. He has my hope.
Not only is the film full of gritty action, performances and cinematography, but the narrative structure we witness indefinitely warps us into the world of City of God. If the story had not been told in such a versatile way including flashbacks, split-screen narrative and transitions between events, it would not be half as interesting. , Fernando Meirelles proves himself an excellent director, and is one to look out for in the future. The film gives a fascinatingly realistic and edgy plot (as should be being based on a true story), while also giving it an exhilarating and exciting narrative edge. City of God is one of the finest modern films to hit our screens and is without a doubt a must-see.