You might see this film listed in any other dullard’s Top WHATEVER list, best of the decade, best of world cinema, best of the best 2, alongside those painful movies critics always seem to like. I expected this movie to be boring, Oscar-bait, ‘look at how awful everything is,’ piece of garbage, and finally saw it because it seemed the cosmos were yelling at me that this was good, goddamn it.
And yes. City of God is good. But not just good — it’s revelatory. It’s like Goodfellas where the characters aren’t all reprehensible, or Menace II Society but with coherency: a gangster epic balanced on a young photographer whose only goal is to, you guessed it, get out of the hood.
With good reason. But not just good — it’s revelatory. This is a film that’s structured like a novel, freeflowing and yet deliberately structured, flitting from place to place while also building to a tremendous, overwhelming climax of bloodshed and brutality. The rhythm of the story safely slows down to give an anecdote time to breathe and sink in — evidence of veteran storytelling skill, all rendered in saturated, beaming color and image.
The movie that kickstarted Alice Braga’s career was not otherwise your typical star-maker vehicle. While generally centered on Rocket, it gave a Wire-esque overview of all manner of faces, those sympathetic, those violent, those sometimes both. In particular, we remember the much-feared crime lord, the ultraviolent terror of the streets whose childhood is bathed in homicide, and yet, whose character is much more complex. Despite being king, his sociopathy hasn’t earned him the world, and the friendship he maintains with the coolest cat in town is painted in its stark ending.
It’s a human story, despite being so alien to American audiences. A cultural teleport-machine, one that doesn’t preach even if it has all rights to, and offers a true film — a story so perfect, its television counterpart, while enticing, seems hardly necessary. It is perfect.