City of Men
City of Men
Review By: Staff
City of Men
Four years after the success of City of God, Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles returns with a new tale from the streets of Rio de Janeiro. He produces this time around, handing the director chair over to Paulo Morelli who handled three episodes of the television series of the same name. The movie is less ambitious than its predecessor, with the writers opting for a smaller story that pays more attention to individual characters than the society that breeds them. The results are inspired, but less engrossing than the original.
City of Men follows the lives of two best friends, Acerola and Laranjinha and their struggle to maintain a peaceful lifestyle in the war-laden favelas of their city. Acerola is caught in a lifestyle he does not want, fathering a child he does not mean to have and marrying a woman he does not love. Laranjinha is on a quest to find the father he never met. Together, they learn important lessons about fatherhood in a world overrun by drug crime, senseless violence, and poverty.
While City of God discusses the latter mentioned themes explicitly, City of Men forces them into the background of a story that lacks the conviction and moral maturity it desires. The film is hindered by patches of contrived melodrama, culminating in a Romeo and Juliet style showdown that positions the two boys against each other in rival drug gangs. Thoughts on fatherhood and lost companionship are composed too simply and brought to closure in a way that does not seem to fit the nature of the story being told. Sub characters such as drug leader Midnight lack the same personality possessed by such powerful figures as Li'l Ze or Knockout Ned in the first film.
While the previous film was a masterpiece in rhythm and timing, City of Men feels oddly out of shape. The powerful imagery is still present, but less bold. The film contains the same bleached out guerilla style cinematography, but lacks a passion. The plot's structure still neatly plays with temporality, but without the same level of experimentation, void of swagger and expertise. Instead of deep treks into the story's past, we get tiny glimpses of forgettable details from the TV show.
Most of the technical elements of the project pale in comparison to its big brother, but City of Men survives well enough because of the performances by the two lead actors. The situation is helped by the fact that performers Darlan Cunha and Douglas Silva have been playing these roles for eight years and are well-attuned to their environment and with each other. The chemistry on screen between Acerola and Laranjinha carries an emotional weight that few characters are able to possess in City
The movie also has brief moments that recall the visual wonder of City of God. In one particularly stunning shot, the two boys hug in long shot below the city's skyline littered by sparkling gunfire. Afterwards, one boy exits frame left and the other leaves frame right. The shot perfectly captures the context of the film's story and functions as a nice metaphor foreshadowing the separation between the boys later in the film. Similarly engaging, is a moment when Acerola's grandmother exits a van on its way to a transportation station because the violence that surrounds it prevents her from leaving. In a well-lighted silhouette, she sits on the curb of the street and sits quietly.
Looking back on the entire film, it really offers more good than harm. While the story is not as polished and the style is not as exciting, the core elements of a strong exercise in craftsmanship are still evident. Since the film really has no connection to its predecessor other than in the realm of the thematic, City of Men would probably have been better suited with a marketing campaign that separated the two projects. City of God is arguably one of the ten best films of the past decade. Any attempt to follow that up is bound to open the door to skepticism.
The special features are minimal on this release. The only thing offered is a short documentary about the making of the film that visits with all of the major collaborators of the project and briefly outlines their creative processes. The director is seen working with the actors, the sound editor discusses how his team developed foley effects for gunfire, and the editor discusses his love of music. The documentary could have been a bit longer, giving us more incite into how the film was made. The DVD as a whole could use a bit more meat on the bone.
Movie Grade: B-
DVD Features Grade: C-
Overall Grade: C+