Saturday, January 05, 2008

We want, we need, we take it

Mixing Goodfellas with the Gangs of New York, the Brazilian film City of God depicts life in a Rio de Janeiro slum known as the City of God. It is a horrid place and what economists would call a poverty trap, where there is no incentive to invest or improve economically as the local criminals and/or the corrupt elements of the state will simply take any wealth or goods people can accrue. Instead, life is governed by criminals who take what they want. At the end we learn the only way to get a better life is to leave, as the narrator does.

The narrator is a poor boy named Rocket who grew up with the leading criminals of the City of God. Using frequent in-depth flashbacks, we see one generation of hoods replaced by the next, often at a very young age. Rocket's attempts at work, a half-hearted attempt at crime and his love-life serve as comic relief for the brutality of everyday life in the City of God.

The main villain is Lil' Ze, a power-mad criminal whose lusts lead to eventual downfall. He alienates friends and recklessly creates enemies. In the movies most disturbing scene, one that will make a number of viewers stop watching, he presents a difficult choice to a young gang applicant. After capturing members of the Runts, a gang comprised of kids under the age of 9 it seems, he forces the new kids to shoot one of them. The younger looks like he is five and is in mortal terror. It is horribly unpleasant, and again turns out to be a bad choice for Lil' Ze.

If you can stand that level and intensity of violence, then you will likely appreciate the intricate story-telling and excellent craft of the director. Aside from the one scene, the movie suffers from being overlong by at least 20 minutes. Lil Ze faces an inevitable gang war that goes on far too long. Despite this it will appeal to fans of serious crime dramas.

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