CITY OF GOD
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Matheus Nachtergaele, Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da
Hora, Jonathan Haagensen, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Daniel Zettel, Seu
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Audio: Portugese Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 130 Minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2004
you lost your mind? You're just a child!"
smoke, I snort, I've killed and robbed. I'M A MAN."
Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas
remains my favorite film of all time. I remember my first viewing as if it were
yesterday. Much of the reason for this has to with the fact that the film never
loses its momentum after the first viewing. Fourteen years, Scorsese's
astoundingly marvelous film manages to have the same overall effect upon each
individual viewing. I never thought I'd see another film to match the level of
violence and authenticity, but that was before City
of God came along. A work of monumental brilliance, it is easily at the
level of both GoodFellas and Pulp Fiction.
Some of the best
films go beyond the realm of simply watching a film. They wound up at the level
of an experience, or of a journey. City of
God is such a film. It combines a masterfully told story (based on true
events) with a sensational visual style that ranks with some of the most
innovative of our time. Like GoodFellas,
it’s story spans over three decades, with many startling surprises. The
film’s narrative structure is, without a doubt, breathtaking in the most
unconventional form. If there is one word to describe this experience, the best
one is: unshakeable.
Fernando Meirelles might as well be Brazil's very own Scorsese in terms of
storytelling. One thing's for sure, though, Meirelles has made a mark for
himself as director of strong visual impact. Having seen just this one film, I
can certainly go so high as to rank him with the likes of Oliver Stone. His
maneuvering of the camera, precise use of edit cuts and coloring combine to make
each image a most lasting impression. It's a solid match up for the striking
story that is told.
Set in a crime
ridden slum of Rio de Janeiro, the film's story is told from the perspective of
a young man who calls himself Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues). The story is told in
flashback form, focusing on Rocket's experience's as a young boy witnessing a
birth of hell ignite right before him. When we first see him, we can already
believe that Rocket is something of a survivor, which is something to be
grateful for in this particular slum.
Rocket, who now
works as a photographer for a local paper, recollects moments of the past that
led to the present. We are then plunged into his story, where it's revealed that
dealing in drugs and crime is a way of life. In the slum which is referred to as
the City of God, the supreme desire for quick cash and a certain feeling of
power is to get in on the action. What's ironic is that even with all of the
perks of the trade, there isn't even much green to go around simply because the
slum is just too poor.
Nonetheless, a mad
hungry figure named Li’l Ze (Leanandro Frimino da Hora) reigns as the king of
the drug lords during this time. Rocket knows him because he watched him grow
from an innocent figure to bloodthirsty predator in a heartbeat, which is how
fast it actually takes to become seduced by a life of crime in this
neighborhood. What forced Li’l Ze to be molded into such a fearing presence is
revealed in the first have of the story, while the second half reveals him at
his most ruthless. He is a remorseless killing machine who would gladly have
anyone connected to his rivals wiped out in a second. His two main rivals are
the equally power hungry criminals Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele) and Knockout
Ned (Seu Jorge).
are truly some amazing elements to take note at. The one that struck me the most
is how much of a survivor Rocket is. He has a passion for photography. As a
little boy, obtains a stolen camera and it turns out to be the one thing that
ends up saving his life. He ends up getting a good paying job at a local paper,
whose staff is much impressed by the pictures he is able to get. He knows pretty
much everyone in the rival gangs, and each gang love the public exposure,
feeling that it injects added fear to everyone else.
The visual style in
the film is one for the history books. The washed up colors and purposefully
high contrast imagery (there is hardly a shot in the film that doesn’t appear
in brown or red) echoes the visual brilliance and daring of Three
Kings. The cinematography provided by Cesar Charlone is nothing short of
astounding. Many technical tricks with the camera are used, including that of a
frenetic hand-held, that turn up individual shots I never even thought were
possible. Charlone earned a much deserving Oscar nomination for his work.
Although I cherish
this film a great deal, I must warn the squeamish and easily offended that it
contains probably some of the most disturbing onscreen violence you’re likely
to ever come across. It isn’t exactly laden with blood, but the story includes
moments where young kids, and by that I mean barely in pre-teen years,
committing acts of killing at will. A good number of youths get in with both of
the gangs and have committed themselves to a harsh and horrific
take-no-prisoners kind of street war. I, myself, rarely ever get offended by
such material, and even I was amazed by some of the things I was seeing. But in
the end, it is necessary in regards to the storytelling of a place where there
is basically no sort of hope for anyone living in it.
of God is not only one of last year’s most brilliant achievements, but
it’s quite simply one of the most striking film experiences I have ever had. I
haven’t encountered a huge level of impact from many films in recent years
that measured up to the one I got from this one. I find it easy to believe that
it will become a much talked about and cherished piece for years to come.
The look of this
film is the key to most of its all around power, and Miramax has perfected the
effect with what is a most amazing presentation. The anamorphic picture does
nothing short of engulf you in its atmosphere. The level of detail is thoroughly
alive and immense, and the high contrast images resonate amazingly in the
presentation. In short, it’s a groundbreaking performance of a groundbreaking
Likewise for the
5.1 mix. The sound in the film is that of extreme originality. Through the many
technical wonders provided by Fernando Meirelles and his crew, the mix delivers
stunning quality in each specific area. Levels of music, dialogue, sequences of
striking violence and other technical effects help to make one very memorable
DVD presentation your sure to remember. High marks all the way!
Though the extras
are a bit light this time around, the sole feature is a very good bonus—a
documentary entitled “News From a Personal War”.