Fernando Meirelles' City of God starts with a bang, and it doesn't just unfold quickly -- it flies at the audience like it was shot out of a cannon. Based on the novel by Paulo Lins, it's a vibrantly hyperkinetic, hyperstylized gangster-drug saga in the tradition of Goodfellas and Trainspotting, complete with jump cuts, whip pans, split screens, freeze frames, elliptical leaps back and forward in time, and wry, self-conscious narration. But City of God has its own unique soulfulness as it explores a vortex of intense poverty and violence that sucks in young men and boys of varied temperaments, who grow up more cynical and violent with each successive generation. Based on actual events and well-cast with nonprofessional young actors pulled from Cidade de Deus, a government-built slum outside Rio de Janeiro, the film exposes a shadow world just miles from a tourist paradise. Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), a good-natured boy who comically learns that he's not cut out to be a hoodlum, decides to become a photojournalist. He's the film's audience/author surrogate, narrator, and moral center. Lil' Dice (Douglas Silva), meanwhile, is a natural-born killer, a sociopath who craves power and loves violence. He grows up, changes his name to Lil' Zé (Leandro Firmino da Hora), and takes over most of the city's drug trade. They're surrounded by an assortment of colorful, well-drawn characters, each of whom eventually have to confront the consequences of their violent lifestyle. While Lil' Zé is the closest the film comes to a real villain, he's shown to be fully human, winning a little bit of audience sympathy when he confronts the fact that he can't find a girlfriend, before again veering off into psychotic mayhem. City of God is a thrilling, sardonically witty, vital, and disturbing cinematic tour de force.
by Josh Ralske review