Review: City of God, dir Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund (2002)
If you've ever been sick of watching Pulp Fiction and wondered what influence it has had on cinema, this film is a good place to look for the jaded movie buff. In fact, it improves on its predecessor by a long mile. At three hours it should have been a stretch on my patience, but the pace never lets up; the story is interesting; and the message is delivered with a driness to flatter Oscar Wilde's dead soul.
Starting in the 1960s, the film chronicles the rise and eventual implosion of a crime gange established by Li'l Dice, a hanger-on to a gang of three hoodlums who prey on the population of an outlying suburb of Rio de Janeiro called City of God.
After earning his stripes and quitting his hometown after murdering a number of people, Li'l Dice morphs into Li'l Ze, and slowly begins to take over the drug distribution racket in the area, a lucrative business.
Eventually he goes too far with his megalomaniacal posturing and makes an enemy out of Knockout Ned, who falls in with Li'l Ze's arch nemesis, drug dealer Carrot.
Meanwhile, Rocket has been struggling to find a peaceful way to escape poverty. In time, he sets his sights on becoming a press photographer - the story is based on a true account - and it's his final triumph in capturing the death of Li'l Ze on camera that cements our allegiance to him. The hero, in the end, is the one who passed up offers of wealth and glory on the streets, and who finds absolution for the crime of being poor in a respectable profession.
The film is sometimes horrifically brutal, so it's not suitable for children. But anyone else who desires an introduction to excellent cinema should watch. The film also provides a good introduction to the slums of South America.