Originally Reviewed – 2/23/2011
The evening I watched City of God was preceded by a horrid day. One of those days you wish would just fly by so you didn’t have to experience it, it was riddled with bad weather, annoying e-mails and a headache so bad, a lobotomy couldn’t have cured it. Even when sitting down to watch the movie, my Blu-Ray player decided to take the evening off, forcing me to watch it on my old as butt PS2. Such indignities! However, the horrors of my day served as a fine backdrop for a viewing of the insightful and frightening City of God. Why? Because this film, unlike the banalities of my day to day problems, is rooted in something real, something dangerous. City of God is an eye opening looking into the day to day lives of people surrounded by real problems and real danger.
Taking place in the slums of Rio de Janerio, one of the most dangerous areas in all of Brazil, City of God tracks the life of young Rocket, an aspiring photographer who has family ties to one of the more notorious gangs in Rio. Through the course of the film, Rocket sees friends and family succumb to the trails and temptations of gang life and, through the lens of his camera, does what he can to rise above it. Modeled after real gangs, filmed in real locations and using actors who actually live in the slums the story takes place in, City of God has an authenticity and realism that makes the on screen action feel more like a documentary than a fictional tale.
While this film garnered four Oscar nominations, impressive for a foreign language film, the most deserving nod was for Best Cinematography. Frantically yet beautifully shot, cinematographer Cesar Charlone captures the hard boiled streets of Rio in stunning, unflinching detail. The direction is also noteworthy as the story of Rocket and the gangs around him is told with harsh realism and palpable emotion. On the acting front, only one of the actors on screen had ever been in a film before, many of whom made their home in the very ghetto being depicted, but everyone does a convincing job in their respective roles. My only complaint would be the part of Little Zie, the most ruthless of the gang leaders. While most of the violence in the film was contextualized, Zie’s character comes off almost too over the top with few references made to why he’s so maniacal.
That, however, is a minor quibble when stacked against fine directing, cinematography that puts you right in the midst of gang warfare and a story of personal triumph that warms the heart as much as it scares the bejesus out of you. City of God is obviously a personal story as much as it’s a work of fiction and that personal touch comes through in every frame, creating a thrilling and emotional experience that’s a pleasure to watch. A crappy day at work becomes much less important after a viewing of this wonderfully done movie. Highly recommended!
Score – 90%