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Movies: City of God

I told my friend to go see City of God. he asked "Is that about gangs?" When I told him it was, he said "I dunno, I've just about had it with organized crime films."

I told him not to worry. City of God is about crime, but it's about the most unorganized crime imaginable.

In fact, even labeling the groups of criminals show in the film -- thugs ranging from the petty to bloodthirtsty -- might be giving them too much credit. They are more like amoebic mobs, swallowing up lives, subdividing into factions, and completely lacking in anything approximating a brain or a central nervous system. Set in the slums of Brazil, the story focuses on a young boy named Rocket (one apparent upside to living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro is that you get a cool nickname), who lives life in orbit of some of the nastier elements of the neighborhood. Like all of his peers, the options available to Rocket are limited: do nothing and live in abject poverty, get an honest but low-paying job, or make some quick cash by engaging in the multitude of nefarious opportunities available.

While Rocket opts to do a little of all three, some of his friends specialize in one track or another. One such specialists is Lil' Dice, who we meet as a nine year old child and watch evolve into one of the most brutal drug lords in the game. Indeed, we get to witness the evolution of all the characters (those that don't get killed, any how), as the movie spans a dozen years of time. In this respect, City of God is reminiscent of Goodfellas, a film that clearly played some inspirational role in this, director Fernando Meirelles debut film.

But there are no "made men" in the City of God, no honor among thieves, no "mafia corporate ladder" for a wannabe gangster to climb. The gangs in this picture are manifestations of anarchy rather than hierarchy. The sheer randomness of the lifestyle is chilling, and violence is depicted as brutal, ubiquitous, and arbitrary. All this makes for a film that portrays the "gangster lifestyle" in the least romantic light possible.

City of God is the movie Gangs of New York should have been (and would have been, if Scorsese had stuck to the book instead of Hollywooding it up): a powerful portrayal of the destructive lure of crime, one that makes you thankful that the life depicted is one you can escape by simply leaving the theater.

Posted on March 07, 2003 to Movies


Man, I wish there was a theatre less than thirty miles from here. The last time I saw a movie Stanley Kubrick was alive and Jim Carrey was funny. Oh, wait. That last part never happened.

I'll guess I'll just rip off the Yeti's reviews and pass them off as my own at dinner parties.
Oh, wait. Dinner parties never happen out here either.

Posted by: Duane on March 7, 2003 8:04 PM

Best film of the year so far, no question.

Posted by: Rory on March 8, 2003 3:46 AM

I just saw City Of God yesterday. Phenomenal work. I think the director did an amazing job of keeping all of the characters completely human so you can never write them off as just "evil" for their actions. They do reprehensible things for very human reasons so that when the worst of them all tries to muster the courage to ask a girl to dance, you're really pulling for him despite your moral qualms with him.
See it if you can.
(Also, how did they get that chicken to run under the truck like that? I wonder if they went through a few chickens...)

Posted by: Heather on March 10, 2003 8:36 AM

y'know you've been completely drawn into the film and its world when you laugh when L'il Dice shoots his buddy in the face for being annoying after they're both shot in the arm. afterwards me and my buddy both looked at each other and said we couldn't believe we'd just found a cold-blooded, completely meaningless killing amusing.

Posted by: Paul on March 10, 2003 11:48 AM

'Love -- a grave mental disease.' Plato

Posted by: Espinola Steve on December 10, 2003 5:58 PM