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"City of God"

Directed by Fernando Meirelles.
Written by Braulio Mantovani.  Based on a book by Paulo Lins.
Starring a whole bunch of Brazilians.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  2/24/04 


Man, you just can’t keep a good crime epic down, and when you’ve got all of the elements—grit, guns, ghettos, girls and godfathers—you can’t go wrong, especially when your opening a chase scene featuring a chicken.

“City of God”, released in 2002 from Brazil but not up for consideration last year since it was not submitted in time for the Oscars, has got it all, plus a true story to back up its narrative.  In the 1960s and 70s, a kid named Rocket grows up in a slum of Rio de Janeiro called the City of God.  He sees it all—crime, drugs, corruption, gang wars, poverty, you name it.  Over the course of the film, we see the action in the slum through a few different perspectives:  Rocket’s, from his youth through his 20s; a trio of slum gangsters in the 60s that force Rocket to consider a life of crime versus finding a job on the up-and-up; L’il Dice, a gang leader and rival to Carrot, another gang leader in the slum; the Runts, a child gang that might be the most frightening force of the film; and Benny, the second-in-command in Dice’s gang that longs for a crime-free future.

I had not even seen a trailer for this film, but after it was nominated for so many Oscars last month, I knew I had to see it soon.  So worth it.  This is filmmaking at its finest, especially in terms of the adult cinematic experience—yes, you can mix scenes of violent shootouts, wives talking about anal sex, a dance sequence featuring the Carl Douglas song “Kung Fu Fighting” and characters snorting so much coke that even I was getting high—and the final result is just a thrill ride, the shocks, the drama, the so-crazy-I-can’t-believe-it-but-it’s-based-on-a-true-story laughter that accompanied so many of the visuals in “City of God.”  The slums profiled in the film just look depressing, but more depressing is the constant reminder that this is home for so many people, and as an American you just shake your head to wonder how some of these folks can even get up in the morning knowing that they could be beaten, robbed or worse on any given Sunday for no reason at all.  But, there they go, and that’s just how it is...but, the emotions some of these actors convey in just a few brief moments are sometimes priceless.

The work of director Fernando Meirelles is the best thing about “City of God”, hands-down.  This afternoon, I read that most of the gang member cast members in “City of God” are real-life street toughs and untrained actors; if that’s the case, the work Meirelles gleans out of his child actors in particular is unfathomable.  A critical sequence featuring a child actor that is wounded in the foot was so believable that you could feel members of the audience just snap with tension; the body english of the actors is just so natural, so relaxed...and, in a moment, abrasive, violent, and it hits you that it’s just surreal that kids could be carrying around AR-15s and revolvers shooting each other for days and weeks at a time.

You really must see this as soon as possible if you haven’t already.  I was shaking my head throughout “City of God”, and I think that’s because I was so caught up in what was happening.  You don’t get that everyday.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 03/29/09