City of God tells the tale of a ghetto in Rio De Janerio in the 70’s. Drug trade, violence and poverty dominate every aspect of life. It opens with our lead character Rocket chasing a chicken only to meet a score of armed teenagers. It loosely follows his journey growing up, with his confused naration as he tries to make sense of a world that is doing its best to be impossible to make sense of.
Although many people die, the film is not overly heavy or unwatchable. There are well placed moments of humour and a thorough sense of respect for its subjects. The audience is first lulled as humourous scenes of lives much poorer than theirs fill the screen, but slowly this turns to pokes and jabs as more and more horrific gangland wars among teenagers goes down, until it becomes outright disdain for anyone who takes their first world priviledge for granted.
It has all been done before, teenagers carryings guns, over-the-top violence, and Scorsese did it better. But City of God is based on a true story and has a grassroots honesty mixed with gangster cool that could send a chill down any hardened movie go-ers spine tingling. People are becoming more and more desensitized to the world around them and this movie joins the dubious ranks of being one of the best movies able to break through that apathy barrier and say something quite profound about poverty, drugs and the futility of life.
Handheld camera work with colourful characters helps to give this movie its grassroots feel. When we see a man beat his wife for infidelity, or a humourous car jacking police chase where the car won’t start, we are convinced what we are watching is real. As the film progresses through its three chapters we quickly realise that the hovel is about to lose even its rare laughs.
This movie blew me away. I was actually talking to other people on the net while I watched it, and I had to explain that I could no longer talk to them because the movie was just far too heavy and I needed to watch it and watch only it out of respect. There were certainly times when it introduced too many characters, or became confused in what it was trying to say. After seeing many gangster films I would say it perhaps could have gone a bit further by being a little less cosy with the gangsters and more of a focus on the community. I wanted to see the aftermath of the many hundreds of deaths you see in this film and that is poorly explored. But in its aim in bringing the harsh reality of poverty, guns, drugs and violence in South America to the big screen I must say it is an undeniable success. 4.5 leamas.