City of God is one of two films on the Best of the 2000s list that I have previously reviewed for the Void Zone Podcast during my younger days. (It was eight months ago). The other film I will be reviewing as part of this project that I previously reviewed is Spirited Away.
I don’t remember precisely what I said about City of God when I reviewed it. I know that I loved it, and I believe that I gave it 5 Stars. If I didn’t, I don’t know what I was thinking.
City of God follows the lives of several young men growing up in Cidade de Deus, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Rocket (Luis Otavio), Li’l Dice (Douglas Silva), and Benny (Michel de Souza) know each other as children in the City of God. Rocket loves photography and longs to be a journalist. Benny shows the signs of a budding romantic, even as a young boy, and Li’l Dice envies the lives and adventures of hoodlums in the City of God – especially “The Tender Trio.”
Li’l Dice plans a heist for The Tender Trio at a local hotel, but on the night of the heist, the older boys treat him like a child and force him to be a lookout. Li’l Dice scrambles the heist and uses it as an opportunity to unleash his sadistic tendencies through mass murder, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead The Tender Trio to disband, and to Li’l Dice’ rise to become a powerful crime lord in the City of God under the new moniker, Li’l Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora). As his empire grows, Li’l Ze comes into conflict with a smaller rival gang and makes an enemy of an inspiring, seemingly honorable army veteran known as Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge). As an adult Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) must navigate the City of God as it descends into total gang war.
City of God is adapted from the novel of the same name, and loosely based on true events in the history of Rio de Janeiro’s organized crime. (Archive footage of some of the men who inspired characters in City of God play over the end credits).
City of God is quite simply one of the best films I have ever seen. A frame story featuring extensive narration, City of God never feels slow, never pauses to allow poetic musings on the inner life of its narrator. It is propulsive. Every single action, reaction, and choice made by every single character has consequences that radiate across the rest of the film. Some of those choices aren’t even apparent, until the film reaches its dramatic final reel depicting the climax of the gang war in the City of God.
Fernando Meirelles’ and Katia Lund’s direction keeps the film moving, even as the cast of characters expands adding gang members, police officers, weapons suppliers, journalists, and victims without overwhelming the audience. Their decision to populate City of God with actual residents of the Cidade de Deus lends City of God an authenticity often absent from the films culled from real history. These are real people telling their story, the way they remember it.
I want to single out for particular praise Douglas Silva and Leandro Firmino da Hora who play the same sociopathic person as a boy and a man respectively. The level of thought and detail put into the performance, including gestures, smiles, and the slight jut of the chin that carries through from one actor to the other makes Li’l Dice/Li’l Ze one of the most singular and well-conceived villains of this new millennium.
Just for the fun of it, I went back and reviewed the episode where we reviewed City of God. I loved it. Gave it 5 Stars, and I responded very positively to the pace at which the movie tells this sprawling tale of urban crime.
City of God finds itself on this list because it was selected as the best film of the 2000s by Paste Magazine. They may very well have gotten it right.
From Out of the Void