City of God (2002) Review

Verdict: Brutal

Great acting, story, and cinematography.


Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) narrates the story of how people in his dangerous neighbourhood have grown up. Li’l Ze (Leandro Firmino) turns out to be the most feared drug dealer in the city, with a more approachable, Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) by his side who mediates with the other dug dealer, Carrot (Sandro Cenoura). Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge) is introduced as a way to prevent Rocket from turning to the dark side, however the same cannot be said for him. What ensues is a cycle of violence that seem to continue endlessly. Directed by Fernando Meirelles, and Katia Lund.

Based on a true favela (slum) named ‘City of God’ in Rio, the film does a great job at creating a realistic looking depiction of the life there. A little trivia: The location in which they filmed at was a neighbouring favela, as the actual favela was too dangerous to film in.

Another trivia: Filmmakers actually recruited children from the favela to produce an authentic feel for the movie. Based on this fact, it is deeply disconcerting that these children are able to act out violet scenes so well, as if they already possessed the persona of their characters. The acting overall is very realistic, and the whole cast does a fantastic job, probably because they have been exposed to this reality all their life.

The story was set in a unique way, with many flashbacks and initial introductions. That slightly annoyed me, when they would introduce a new character and then say that it wasn’t time for his story yet. But it was interesting to have so many characters in the film, as it was used in a way to cover more aspects of the favelas. The introduction of so many characters and how they changed could also be a way to generalize these characters, as a way of saying that these characters can be found in any slum (Felicia Chan, and Valentina Vitali). However because Rocket is the narrator, it does come into question how he gains knowledge of the events that unfold to these characters when he isn’t present.

The cinematography and editing does well to complement the authenticity of the film. With its fast pace and well planned shots, the film right from the beginning establishes the action, fear and danger of what is to come. The explicit brutality of violence is not hidden and for this film and what they wanted to show, it is probably necessary. However, I am not sure if is accurate in its representation of violence and the drug circle as it does seem excessive.

To sum-up:
PROS: Acting, cinematography, story
CONS: Explicit violence, Realistic?

I give this a 8/10.

Have you seen City of God? Rate it out of 5 stars above or leave a comment below!

Citation: Chan, Felicia, and Vitali, Valentina. “Revisiting the ‘realism’ of the cosmetics of hunger: Cidade de Deus and Ȏnibus 174.” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 8, no. 1 (2010): 15-30.


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