The small Brazilian film City of God is a very powerful film that few have seen, but it made such an impression on critics that it was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, and with just cause, as this film makes for one of the better cinematic experiences in several years.
The story focuses on Rocket, a young boy growing up in the slums of the worldwide playground of Rio de Janeiro. Rocket and several other boys grow up in extreme poverty, and while Rocket dreams of becoming a photograp…er, the boys in his neighborhood grow to make different choices in their lives. The first scene in the film could easily be described as key, with Rocket and a friend in the middle of the street, a bloodthirsty murderous gang on one side, and the police on the other.
From that point, the movie travels back to show you the choices that characters made to get to where they are. It’s done in such a convincing manner that you really feel for many of the characters, as they grow up, some are killed, some aren’t. Rocket encounters one man on the bus collecting money, through several circumstances, he winds up as one of the leaders of a gang who is hell bent on destroying the existing gang. With director Fernando Meirelles’ storytelling, you see an incident, and then you circle back on it later, not only because seeing this in a linear storyline would possibly confuse people, but you feel a larger impact on these events after seeing the backstory behind them.
The movie has gotten a lot of comparisons to Goodfellas, but I think that in Goodfellas, while the choices Henry Hill made were to make an easier life for himself until he became immersed with drugs, City of God shows the characters with far more regret in some of the things they do. They are aware of the choices they make, many knowing full well it will cement their fates as lifetime thugs, assuming they even make it to age 21. Full of unknown actors and actresses, their performances leave so much resonance with you, it’s amazing that many of them are just kids. The Goodfellas comparison is true in the sense that it’s got a lot of violence. A LOT OF VIOLENCE. When a 9 year old is forced to shoot another 9 year old to prove his loyalty to the gang, the subject matter is going to be pretty heavy.
The Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 is also pretty capable too, with more use of the surround speakers than I first thought, and everything sounds pretty clear throughout as well.
Miramax releases City of God as an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen release that looks very good. The opening shots really emphasize the detail involved in the film, and for a film that is dark in subject matter, you get sepia tones that are somewhat blown out a la Traffic, but the majority of the film is dark with no light, and the black level is consistent.
The DVD is pretty light on extras, aside from trailers touting several films (including the film’s soundtrack), the only other extra is a 50 minute documentary titled News From a Personal War, which detailed the real-life perspectives of the dealers, the cops and the innocent slum residents. The gang conflicts are put into a historical context, and it also gives you a real good idea about the type of ammunition that’s being used in the conflict. One thing’s for sure though; everyone agrees the cops are corrupt, violent, and in some cases, inept. The sad part is that the system has made the police force that way. It’s a lot more depressing than the film, but is almost as effective.Closing Thoughts
Both the high price tag and lack of bonus features may deter people from picking up this DVD, but at the very least, this is a must-rent. It is very powerful filmmaking, an excellent story, combined with a more than adequate audio and video presentation. This film is excellent in every way, and must be experienced by everyone.
Special Features List
- “News From a Personal War” Documentary