City Of God

Cover Art: 8/10
The cover doesn’t tell the story of City of God but it touches on two of the main themes, the simplicity of two people on a beach sharing an intimate moment and the image of a gang of gun toting criminals posing for a photograph. The good life vs. a life of destruction is the choice the characters are forced to make in this story and the cover of the DVD, as innocently as possible, tries to sum it all up as best as possible. I’m not usually a fan of photographic covers, but I had no idea what this movie was about when I saw the cover and it made me curious. I suppose that means it is effective even if it’s not one of those artsy covers I usually like to see.

Features: 10/10
News from a personal war documentary- Wow! This is just one extra, but it’s not just an extra (if you know what I mean), it’s a full-on feature documentary that tells the whole true story behind City of God. It shows the culture of the real people, the criminals, the citizens, the police, and the one man who chose to tell the tale. It’s the kind of extra I would love to see on every DVD. A well produced, very informative film in its own right that brings this movie out of the realm of just being “based on a true story” but gives real life images to back up that all too common Hollywood phrase.

You meet people who live in the slums of Rio and who rely on the criminal gangs to a degree to survive. You meet the police who face a war like atmosphere every day they go to work. So much death, so much turmoil, it’s hard to imagine living that way all your life. One thing this documentary shows is just how unbelievably lucky and spoiled most of us are to be living the way we do.
It shines a light on a reality we don’t often want to see. It’s a place where the lines between law enforcement and crime are blurred and survival of your family can depend on a son who is a drug dealer, even a killer and where respect for the police is basically non existent. In fact, most people have a strong distrust and even hatred for law enforcement.

Jobs are scarce but some still find a way to eek out a living amongst the surreal over crowding and horrible living conditions. It’s an amazing film in it’s own right and I was totally surprised and thrilled to have it along with the feature. I wish more film makers would make this much effort to back up their “based on a true story” movies. This “extra” does exactly what it should, it fills in the gaps between what we see in the movie and what the real life circumstance that inspired it is really all about. That is more than I can say for most of these documentaries that get tossed on DVD’s these days. It deserves the highest score for being what I consider a perfect extra!

The Movie: 10/10:
“One of the best films you’ll EVER see.” Says the DVD cover, and I have to say I agree. I was skeptical, as usual, and I was thinking, “yea right, THE BEST?” How can anyone know what I will think is the best? I was humbled by Roper and Ebert’s foresight and intuition. How do they do that?
This is a film that feels so real you can almost feel, taste, and smell the heat of Rio Di Janeiro. Not the Rio De Janeiro we all think of from movies and vacation ads. This is the reality of a part of Rio most of us never even knew existed, the slums. Small government built houses as far as the eye can see. Small like the storage buildings we buy to put in our yards to hold lawnmowers and bbq grills in the off season. Hundreds, thousands of little colorful house all lined up in rows like some kind of urban suburbia, if that’s possible. Nothing more than streets, dirt, sun, and people to fill the space that these little tenements don’t occupy, and when you have a mix like that there’s bound to be some unrest. Why the unrest? Well, with that many people, no jobs, no money, no running water, no real police force, and no prospects for the future, a social structure is bound to fall apart. It might not fall apart completely, but when the drug dealers and criminals run loose in the streets and the only police who are there to protect you are corrupt, there is no structure, just survival.

One young man grows up as we watch eyes half covered hoping for the best, dreading the worst. His decisions can lead him to a life of crime or to a real life away from the frantic war zone that slowly builds up around him during his youth. His older brother gets caught up in the gangs, theft, even murder, while Rocket watches with sad but hopeful eyes. He’s hopeful that one day he will find his ticket away from the death and destruction that has become his neighborhood, his community. He wants to be a photographer, an unlikely goal of someone living day to day up against the tide of hurt moving closer. His parent struggle to hold on to what’s left of whatever positive influence they can have on their sons. But, as the film moves along, Rocket’s parents and seemingly all adults are abandoned to leave the war, the violence, the drugs, the crime, and the punishment to the children of the streets, their children they’ve lost to the higher powers of greed, vengeance, and youthful recklessness.
Lil’ Ze has become the equivalent of a mob boss in this hovel of a city. His crazy killing sprees coupled with what seems to be some serious mental instability takes him to the top of the scum heap. He grows up to be the leader of a ruthless drug syndicate. The only thing between his gun and the community is his life long friend and partner in crime, Benny. Benny is a yuppie wannabe, he wants a better life, but has stuck by his psychopath friend since they were young. Rocket befriends the kinder gentler gangster when Benny steals the girl of Rocket’s dreams.

Through the story we follow different people and their journey’s to one fateful day that opens the movie. The rest is a flash back, or should I say several flash backs that tell the full story of how Rocket comes to have a camera in the street held up between gun welding gang of thugs on one end and a group of gun toting corrupt police on the other.
Many people cross the paths of Lil’ Ze and Rocket, most of whom don’t find their happy endings. It’s not a pretty life these people lead, it’s rough, harsh, impossible really to fathom just how it must be to life in a war zone where there is no war.
I won’t tell you the whole story, because as it unfolds I want you to be an enthralled as I was, but I will talk about what a wonderful film this is. The look is often stark with bright lighting and strong contrast, but this lends itself to a heightened sense of reality, almost documentary style at times. There are flashbacks to tell individual stories and they are done with such style I forgot I didn’t like flashbacks. There is a smattering of voice over, which I personally do like, despite what film snobs say, and each chapter is sew together with some clever, even humorous captions. Humor in this kind of story is hard to come by, but somehow the natural awkward comedy leaks out here and there. It’s not uproarious kind of funny, but subtle, intelligent, and it takes away the sting that most of the images and circumstances bring.

The dialogue is excellent, never boring, never unrealistic, or too dramatic. I don’t speak Portuguese, but It’s lovely to listen to and it’s subtitled very well. There were a few times when the subtitles kind of went a little funny, but I’m not sure if that was our player, or just a glitch on the disk, or actual mistakes back at the processing plant. It didn’t get in the way of understanding what was going on, it’s just something to warn you about so you don’t think something’s wrong with your DVD player.
Overall this is absolutely one of the best movies I’ve seen. It’s powerful but never preachy, dramatic but not too intense, funny but not enough to lose the weight of the story. There is a strong sense of objective voyeurism instead of any kind of judgment about what the characters are doing. We are observing them without having to decide if what they are doing is right or wrong. It’s hard to tell these kinds of tales without adding personal opinion on top of things, but the writers and director did an amazing job of keeping City of God at an arm’s length while still making it impossible not to care about every single character. It’s a must see in my opinion, so go on, go get it already! What are you waiting for?

Value: 9/10
It’s well worth the 20 dollars I’ve found it for online. This is one for the DVD collection if I have ever seen one. I look forward to watching it again and again with different people to see what they think and how they react. Take a chance on this movie and you will not regret it. Even if you rent it you will be glad you invested $3 to have this film swirling around in your head.
With an amazing film to watch and an almost perfect complimentary documentary added to the mix, the DVD gives the full experience of this moving story and that is what I call a 10/10. That’s a lesson for you DVD authors out there, quality over quantity can win us over more than a laundry list of frivolous extras and a mediocre movie.

Overall Score 10/10