A crime epic spanning twenty years, City of God beautifully tells a story a city consumed by crime and how it destroys everything around it. Set in Rio de Janeiro, we see a growing favela, the rise of slum lord Lil’ Ze, and merciless war breaking out within. Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, they deliver strong characters, rich drama and a thrilling visual style that makes City of God a must-see film.
The film’s narrator is Rocket, a young man who grew up in the Cidade de Deus (name of the favela) his older brother one of the first criminals in the city. Rocket tells different stories all relating to the main themes of crime in Brazil. The Tender Trio, Lil’ Ze, Knockout Ned, Benny all major characters that work through the story in different ways but Rocket’s story telling of these events helps the audience understand how it’s all connected.
This diverse cast are extremely talented, City of God also utilises an extraordinary skill from its child actors. Many scenes feature children using fire arms and Meirelles and Lund convey the terror that the favela’s nature has bred onto its occupants. No one stays innocence in the City of God, even the most noble men can descend to cruelty. The authenticity from the performers makes the film so much more dynamic as many of them actually lived in favelas, lived in this world.
It never shies away from the reality of this world, it is violent, cruel and to survive you must be able to adapt or you will be destroyed. At times the film depicts unbelievable horror, children committing murder, rape, drugs but the strength of story and character have those moments give thematic relevance and serve as powerful moments in the film not cheap exploitive shocks.
City of God is an amazing portrait of a completely different culture, not Southern America but a world that feeds off of crime. Local government and law enforcement have no influence of control on the favela, the slumlords do and Lil’ Ze will stop at nothing to control it all. It’s also a unique look at a coming of age film, you see three characters grow from children: Rocket, Benny and Lil’ Dice and how this environment transforms them into completely different people.
An essential viewing for anyone, this film sets itself apart from other crime films and serves as a faithful interpretation of this reality. Deeply layered and memorable City of God stays with its audience long after they’ve seen it.