City of God (2002)

91% – Critics
97% – Audience

City of God Storyline

City of God is based on a semiautobiographical novel with the same name originally published in 1997. It takes place in the ’60s where in the slums of Rio de Janeiro two boys growing up in the neighborhood take on different paths in life. The story is told through the eyes of Buscape, a poor young fisherman’s son who dreams of becoming a photographer one day. His story narrates the violence and corruption surrounding the city and the rise and fall of one of the city’s most notorious bosses, Li’l Ze. As war wages on the streets Buscape’s only way out of this violent life is to expose its brutality to the world through his pictures. Along the way the lives of others are put into perspective as their stories intersect with the events that take place.

City of God Play trailer

City of God Photos

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City of God Movie Reviews

A Brazilian masterwork

Such an amazing film that deserves the accolades and acclaimed hype it’s garnered. One of the best foreign language films there is and one of the best films personally seen recently, after a long time of being on my to see list but taking a while to get round to it due to being so busy and going through a difficult phase.

Perhaps ‘City of God’ is not for everybody. It is not some audience members’ idea of being entertaining, and is pretty unflinching, uncompromising and challenges the viewer. It does, with that being said, a superlative job bringing those qualities to life, and there are others, including myself, who judge films by what they set out to do rather than just wanting to be “entertained”. There are many hugely entertaining films, while there are others that are clearly intended to be things other than entertainment and either are deep character studies, deliberate mood pieces and poignant dramas and shouldn’t be denounced because of stereotypical views of what a film should be like.

‘City of God’ is very well made, with some stunning and hard-hitting images, even if the budget is not high or enormous. It’s all audaciously shot and edited with a lot of gritty atmosphere and sense of tension. The music fits well and has some haunting moments without being intrusive, while Fernando Meirelles’s direction, particularly in the visual style, is superb.

The story is not hard to follow, with lots of provoking thought, tension and emotion, while the action is positively explosive, frighteningly brutal and designed with a real meticulousness. In no way either does it glamorise crime and gives an unflinching view of gangland rivalry, provoking comparisons to Martin Scorsese and ‘Goodfellas’.

Alexandre Rodrigues and Leandro Firmino da Hora are fabulous in their roles and carry the film and their compellingly real characters adeptly.

Overall, a masterwork. 10/10 Bethany Cox

Sprawling crime masterwork from Brazil

Wow, what a great movie! I’d heard plenty about this low budget Brazilian gangster film before I got around to seeing it when it showed on television in the middle of the night, but I was fully prepared to be disappointed. Many times a film has been hyped up so much that it’s a let down when I finally see it, but not so this one: CITY OF GOD is a tremendous film, a masterpiece in fact. In many ways it’s like a lower budget, more realistic version of the classic gangster films made by the likes of Martin Scorcese and Guy Ritchie and in many places it equals the heights of those two directors at the top of their game.

The film follows the misadventures of various, almost feral children as they attempt to eke out an existence and then a living as they grow up in a Rio de Janeiro slum in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The central narrator isn’t a gangster at heart; all he wants is to become a photographer and yet he’s caught up time and time again in the violence surrounding his drug-dealing friends. Particularly good is Leandro Firmino as Li’l Ze, a psychotic hood who becomes a gang leader and who thinks nothing of having kids executed if they dare so much as get in his way.

The direction is top notch, with Fernando Meirelles employing hand cameras on more than one occasion, so that this has a vivid, on the street look to it. The editing is slick and sleek, the music fits the action perfectly, and almost every actor seems to fit his or her role like a glove. I’m trying to think of things to criticise, but there’s nothing, really: the story drew me in, got me interested in finding out what happened to the characters, and before I knew it a good two and a half hours had gone by while I sat back and was lost in this film’s world. Of course, it’s a tremendously violent movie, unflinching in its depiction of violence against children, and one of the most hard-hitting films I’ve witnessed, so not for those who prefer family-friendly fare; but if you’re up for it, this just might be one of the best, most realistic crime films ever made.

a horrible movie that I strongly recommend

When I say “horrible” I am referring to the vileness of the characters and terrible images in the film. Technically speaking, this is a great film–with some of the most amazing and innovative cinematography I have ever seen. The stories are interwoven very well and the film seems so very real. It is so unfortunate at the film’s conclusion you find out that although these are actors, the story itself is true. It’s just so hard to imagine living in this hell on Earth in Rio. After seeing this film, there’s no way I am ever visiting Brazil!! I’m sure many viewers feel the same way due to the absolute brutality of their slums where the police do little to interfere with gangs who run it.

FYI–there’s an excellent and sobering documentary on the Criterion DVD of this movie about the drug problem in Rio in the present day. However, it and the film itself are very intense and bloody so I would not allow kids or even teens to view the film. It’s really a shame, as most of the way through the documentary I realized it would be a great thing to show my high school world history class. But, the sight of a room full of naked teens with their penises a-dangling changed my mind!