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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.33%
Average: 1.67%
Pretty Bad: 2.5%
Total Crap: 3.33%

5 reviews, 90 user ratings

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City of God
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by MP Bartley

"The Brazilian 'Goodfellas'? It's better then that."
5 stars

It's very easy to compliment one great film by comparing it to another, especially when it's an overseas flick. 'Amores Perros' is the Mexican 'Pulp Fiction'. 'Battle Royale' is the Japanese 'A Clockwork Orange'. And now comes this South American belter being hailed as the descendent of Scorsese's mafia classic. But it deserves it's own praise. Praise up to the heavens.

Yes, there are similarities to 'Goodfellas'. Both deal with the characters introduction to crime at a very early age and carries on through their lives, and a voice-over propels the narrative of both. But this is a film that is in a class all of its own.

Set in the Brazilian slums the story is seen through the eyes of Rocket, a would be photographer. We first see him as a 10 year old (Luis Otavio). He is in awe of his older brother Shaggy who is one of the chief bandits in the area. Also growing up with Rocket is Li'l Dice (Douglas Silva) a hyperactive, manicial kid, who just doesn't want to admire the gangsters, he wants to be one. He's introduced into the gang, with terrible results.

After a chain of events have been set off we zip forward to the 1970's where Rocket (now Alexandre Rodrigues) is still dreaming of a better life, but Li'l Dice is no more. He's grown up into Li'l Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora) the most bloodthirsty, fearsome man around and he wants sole control of the City of God. The war he then wages at those all round him propels the rest of the story. Also caught up in these events is the placid best friend of Li'l Ze, Benny (Phelipe Haagensen), local drug dealer Carrot, Knockout Ned a street toughman and the Runts, the next generation of kids growing up into crime.

I'm going to say no more about the plot to save all the surprises that 'City of God' has in store. And it has surprises. Snapping from one story to the next, casually disposing of characters, introducing new ones, disposing of those, it's a kinetic narrative that leaves the audience breathless.

This is one of those films that has something for everyone. You just want entertainment for the next two hours of your life? Just get caught up in the gang warfare and the pace of a film that never, ever drags.

You're a film student? Well there's enough razzle-dazzle editing, gritty cinematogrophy, and narrative tricks to make Michael Bay, Simon West, Raja Gosnell etc cry. It's 'look-ma-no-hands!' film-making, but crucially there's content to back up the style.

You want intellectual stimulation? Try figuring out who the villains are in 'City of God'. Yes, Li'l Ze is brutal, ruthless and psychotic. But he rules with such an iron fist that rogue criminals aren't allowed and as such the popluation remain largely unthreatened by him. The government? Nowhere to be seen. The police? Taking pay-offs from Li'l Ze is all they ever do.

And there's incident a-plenty that ranges from killingly funny (Bennys transformation from casual drug dealer to flyboy disco king), to devastatingly brutal (the treatment of an adulterous wife) to what simply amounts to stunning cinema (a nightclub sequence that is a masterclass in editing). And an early contender for scene of the year is made in the treatment handed out to two Runts caught thieving by Li'l Ze...

And acting? Try this, all the actors are first-time amateurs taken from auditions by people from the area and there isn't one weak link among them. There isn't even a mediocre link.
Rodrigiues is an instantly likeable focal point for the audience, making wry comments on proceedings and every small player fills their parts. Stars of the show however are Silva and da Hora as Li'l Dice and Li'l Ze. Silva has the seemingly impossible task of pulling off a murderous child and making it scary and disturbingly believable. Haley Joel Osment, hang your head in shame. Silva's so good he should be Oscar's shortlist for Supporting Actor.

And da Hora is awesome as the spitting, venomous killer every bit as psychotic as Pesci in 'Goodfellas'. The kind of character that actually engenders fear in the audience every time he's on screen. You never know when he's going to snap and at whom. If it's Silva for Supporting Actor, it's da Hora for Best Actor.

Actually this should be on the Oscar shortlist for everything. Director Meirelles makes it feel like he's ran onto the streets, followed these gangs around for years, and then just filmed whatever he's seen. It's that raw, it's that vital. And it's never condescending or judgemental. These characters behave as they do, because they have nothing else to do. But Meirelles has no time for pondering the politics of Brazil. He's too busy giving us a snapshot of what life is like on the real edge of survival. The only judgement he makes is a silent one, as the last few minutes show what a cycle of destruction these people live in.

'City of God' burns itself onto the screen and onto your memory, like nothing else. If we get another three films this year that are anywhere near as good as this, it'll be a premium year for film. You need to see this.

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originally posted: 01/14/03 04:37:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/10/19 h g 5 stars
12/29/17 morris campbell good foreign cinema 4 stars
3/02/12 stanley welles an insight into a horrifying wonderland 5 stars
10/18/10 Vijaya Bhaskar It's a superb film... 4 stars
8/10/09 S.Satish A very realistic film. Leaves an impression in your mind fow few days! 5 stars
4/01/09 R.W. Welch Excess body count strains credulity, but pro work otherwise. 4 stars
10/07/08 C Lemon Amazing film and the documentary extra on the dvd is even more compelling and worth a look! 5 stars
9/28/08 Dipesh Dhakal( A perfect movie, stainless acting, spellbinding performance and stirring visuals. 5 stars
8/18/08 jonathantstorm best film ever 5 stars
8/09/08 snakeeyes Cinema doesn't get more exhilarating than this 5 stars
10/12/07 scotty One of the Greatest Films of All Time!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/16/06 Cat This should be on the top of anyones movie lists! A must see. Brilliant. 5 stars
4/30/06 Agent Sands Deserving of every bit of praise it's gotten. A truly amazing epic. 5 stars
3/15/06 Naka One of the best films I've ever seen. And that's that. 5 stars
11/22/05 Erick Echeverria it was something that made me realize a lot of things. 5 stars
10/17/05 DM Breathtaking, brilliantly directed and smoothly edited. 5 stars
9/13/05 ray mero Riveting technique, yes, but also deeply compassionate. Hollywood could not do this. 5 stars
7/13/05 Tom A quality piece of cinema-a must see 5 stars
6/14/05 Lelani this movie was so well shot and all the actors did an incredible job 5 stars
6/13/05 Agent Sands A major surprise. I was super-impressed by everything. 5 stars
5/24/05 J Barnes The next movie you need to watch is CITY OF GOD. 5 stars
4/20/05 Justin Whitebeaver the flim takes you on a ride to hell and back and makes you say hay lets do that again 5 stars
4/09/05 asher good 3 stars
2/21/05 Agent Sands A highly engaging, terrifically made film. And we never get Portuguese flix in America. 5 stars
12/30/04 Daveman For all its flaws, City Of God is a disturbing, honest and visually stunning film. 4 stars
12/21/04 Naka Will keep you glued to your chair and will haunt you long after you leave it. 5 stars
12/02/04 jlock Awesome Film. 5 stars
11/25/04 drfardook Yes it really is that good. All elements of the film are unbelievably well done. 5 stars
11/12/04 Andrea outstanding! Why can't Hollywood produce films like this? 5 stars
11/03/04 King James ignoring our prematurely ejaculating friend mike down there, this movie is STUNNING!!! 5 stars
11/03/04 mike it blew me too, i was so bored my g/f made me blow my load all over the back of the headres 1 stars
10/18/04 will rogers, fantastic 4 stars
10/16/04 kelle excellent film, very shocking because it is based on a true story 5 stars
10/12/04 Naka Absolutely everything one could ask for in a movie of this kind. SPECTACULAR! 5 stars
10/10/04 tj Excellent and thought provoking 5 stars
9/23/04 the Grinch I agree, more Dickens than Scorsese. One of the best movies I've ever seen! Flawless! 5 stars
9/02/04 psycho dwarf Not even Dickens coulda done these kids justice. Has to be seen to be believed. 5 stars
7/08/04 Will that was utterly excellent. even better if you understand portuguese. 5 stars
7/07/04 Forget Hollywood.... damn... that was amazing. I didnt know brazilians could make movies like that! 5 stars
6/27/04 Brad Amazing camera work, character development, and plot. Great! 5 stars
6/10/04 EL PAPALOTE Iliked the movie but i hated the subtittle 4 stars
4/17/04 Morally Sound Absolutely amazing! Beautifully filmed, stunningly real. 5 stars
4/15/04 Spencer Turner Best Movie Ever Period! Totally Engrossing 5 stars
4/06/04 Ry Guy I paid for the whole seat, but I only needed the edge. 5 stars
3/26/04 LIAM JACKSON Li'l Ze was the human incarnation of evil. it was good to see him go down in a bullet hail. 5 stars
3/25/04 Shelley Shea Just dying to see this movie. 4 stars
3/19/04 Dale cash Brilliant. 5 stars
3/04/04 Andy Kirk One of the best films I have seen, and I have seen many.Not 1 person has said otherwise. 5 stars
2/18/04 Dennis Just to correct the critic, the favella City of God is in São Paulo, not in Rio de Janeiro. 5 stars
2/15/04 selden c. beebe extraordinary and poignant 5 stars
2/10/04 The Quirkfetch Kid Right on Suzanne! Whirring whizzing scenery had me too dizzy to read the damn subtitles! 2 stars
2/09/04 Suzanne Foster Totally mind-numbing, and that's just the frenzied scene-shifting! 2 stars
2/09/04 Brian Hansen An extremely strong social realistic movie - a movie with a lasting impression 5 stars
1/28/04 Andre Great, fabulous 5 stars
1/28/04 Shaq I loved it. 1 stars
11/04/03 Starkey Best film of the year! Don´t miss it! 5 stars
10/09/03 Jorge Xavier Excellent movie! The best I´ve ever seen! 5 stars
10/01/03 yui a very good cutting and excitng 5 stars
9/28/03 cretik Brilliant film making! It diffinately bitchslaped a lot of Hollywood directors. 5 stars
8/25/03 Luciano Lucindo Chaves Strong reality 5 stars
8/13/03 lm a lot better than i expected.... 5 stars
7/12/03 Morally Sound One of the greatest films ever made. Brilliant! A true masterpiece! 5 stars
4/29/03 Kyle If you have a chance to see this - I urge you, DO IT. 5 stars
4/05/03 John Bale Episodic Brazilian kitchen sink - sex drugs and violence shot like a music clip. 3 stars
3/12/03 Aiken Drum The film was real good. 5 stars
3/05/03 james good 5 stars
3/02/03 Cynthia Its a masterpiece... shows the reality with realism! 5 stars
2/27/03 Artist Freak excellent, visceral, violent, sensual, dizzying 5 stars
2/23/03 NoMargin Long but engrossing 4 stars
2/21/03 Sweeeeet It was real good! 5 stars
2/13/03 Aloha best movie I've seen in '03 so far - a kick in the head in film form 5 stars
2/13/03 M Freaking Unbelievable! 5 stars
2/11/03 Blue Brad Thrilling, Outstanding, Awesome... 5 stars
2/05/03 Aaron another perspective on the "racial democracy" of Brazil 4 stars
1/28/03 Kaminoan It sucks major balls 1 stars
1/22/03 David Brutaly realistic! Amazing editing, acting, and camera work. Kicks All Ass! 5 stars
1/21/03 Cliff Oh my....This movie is like entering a haunted house. 5 stars
1/20/03 Gerard Motola A very fascinating look at the favelas of Rio 5 stars
1/20/03 Robert Rezende It will shock you. Cinema doesn't get better than this. A Masterpiece! 5 stars
1/20/03 Kaminoan This movie just did not impress me at all 1 stars
1/20/03 Leo Rezende It will shock you. Cinema doesn't get better than this. One of the best movies ever made 5 stars
1/19/03 George I'm sorry, I just don't see what all you guys are raving about 4 stars
1/18/03 Colin Selby BLOODY BRILLIANT 5 stars
1/18/03 Jose Roberto Costa One of the two brazilian best films ever made! 5 stars
1/17/03 Marcello Santi Another remarkable example of how good is the Brazilian cinematography. A masterpiece! 5 stars
1/15/03 Peter Straub An intoxicating shot of cinematic adrenaline 5 stars
1/04/03 EDS One of greatest Brazilian movies, Great plot, great screenwriting. A must see. 5 stars
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  17-Jan-2003 (R)
  DVD: 08-Jun-2004



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