Set in the heart of the Rio de Janeiro slums, City of God depicts the infamous slum run by rival gangs and ambitious individuals determined to claim ownership of the city. Shown through the perspective of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), an aspiring photographer from his childhood in the 1960s to the early 80s.
Meirelles and Lund’s direction is fast-paced with numerous characters being dropped in throughout. The cinematography is one of the film’s greatest aspects; all the beauty of Brazil is perfectly exposed and contrasts brilliantly with the poverty of the slums. Like many films of this theme, the city is one of the most important features. It contrasts the Rio known to the tourists and shows the realities of many of it’s locals. The City of God, as Rocket tells us, attracts people made homeless. The career path of it’s residents is simple – they become hoods. For Rocket, however, this is not so easy. He fails at his attempts at stealing as he finds his victims “too cool” and has little luck with girls who always end up falling for someone else.
But City of God is more concerned with the lives of the rival gangs. Starting with the Runts, pre-teens who begin as small-time crocks and work their way up to be proper gangsters. Lil Ze (Leandro Firmino), perhaps one cinema’s most terrifying characters, begins in this way and quickly builds a dangerous reputation spreading fear throughout the city by taking out rival gangs. His desire to be the top dog is hindered by his more reasonable best friend, Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) and a vengeful victim (Seu Jorge).
It is the smaller moments in City of God that are some of its finest; Rocket erases the boyfriend of his love interest from a group photograph by asking him to ”back a little’‘ until he is submerged in shadow, a man who looks set to be Rocket’s first robbery victim – as people from Sao Paulo are never cool – turns out to be another escapee: “for a guy from Sao Paulo you’re really cool”. Carl Douglas’ classic hit Kung Fu Fighting will now always remind me of the brilliant disco scene.
City of God’s fast-pace requires a lot of concentration, but the compelling characters -particularly the witty and loveable Rocket – beautiful cinematography and gripping storyline make it one of the greatest film’s of the 21st Century.