It’s a very special movie that even tries to bring audiences ‘everything’.
As the promotional material promised, first time director Fernando Meirelles’ City of God has everything movies are supposed to: guns, drugs, friendship, blood, sex, corruption and humour.
It’s an even more special movie that delivers all these elements (and more) effortlessly, which City of God does. Even if the quality cinematic pickings hadn’t been slim so far this year, City of God would easily stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Its biggest triumph is its equal appeal to the cerebral as well as the visceral. Want a ‘think’ movie with a message? Go see The Hours or Far From Heaven. Want action, adventure, excitement and raw emotional response? Go see Star Trek: Nemesis or Maid in Manhattan. Want both? City of God serves it up in helpings that will leave you reeling.
Described as part Pulp Fiction, part Goodfellas and part Boogie Nights (and easily as good as all three put together), it focuses on a handful of lives over three decades in a Rio De Janeiro housing project called Cicade de Deus — City of God.
The urban tenements were constructed quickly and cheaply to deal with the burgeoning poor and just as quickly descended into hotbeds of crime and violence in control of various drug gangs.
As narrated by the lead character Rocket, the lives of his friends and their enemies which intertwined (or violently collided), are full of humour, kinship, and wasted potential and opportunity — often coming to a brutal end in a hail of bullets.
Allegiances shift and morph between the childhood and teenage gangs that control the drug supply as the protagonists grow up, and it’s easy to forget that most of the cast are barely old enough to vote — not just because of the quality of performances (many of the actors are unknowns plucked from the real life projects themselves) but the chilling power they wield.
Stylised photography rather than needlessly groovy camerawork, gattling gun plotting, riveting performances and characters whose lives you sink right into make the two-hours-plus running time fly past. Hollywood conventions of characterisation are thrown out the window, so don’t try and guess who’ll do what or where fate will next deal its hand.
City of God contains styles, sequences, writing and methods that pay homage to plenty of other films and genres but at the same time there hasn’t been a more original movie in a long time.
And after the dust has settled, you realise you’ve been told a solid, well-crafted story with a definitive plot — if you’re after Lynch-like navel gazing and question marks everywhere, you’ve come to the wrong place.
City of God is, as promised, everything cinema should be, and unlike the usual popcorn fare, its echo will stay with you for a long time.