Directed by Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles

Based on the Book by Paulo Lins

Screenplay by Bráulio Mantovani

– Alexandre Rodrigues as Rocket
– I can’t figure the rest out ’cause my Portuguese is rusty

Jonny is a 12 pound pussy…

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I think Roger Ebert is a great movie reviewer, maybe the best. Many people consider him part of the old guard; antiquated, in the pockets of the studio bosses and never, ever, Ruthless enough. This is hogwash. See Ebert’s review of Jaws The Revenge for proof. Simply put, one of the most Brutal (and Ruthless) movie reviews ever written. As Erich says, “You can’t fuck with Ebert.” Now that my lips are nicely browned from old Roger’s ass, let me explain why I am even bringing him up. Roger Ebert said that City of God is one of the best movies I will ever see.

I am here to tell you that it is not. Don’t get me wrong. It is a very good movie. Stunning, in fact. The direction is either heaven sent, or I just witnessed the birth of a new master-voice among filmmakers. The way the camera moves is intoxicating. The acting is solid across the board, though subtitled movies always appear to be a little less cheesy than our homegrown ones. Which is probably just be the medium, when you consider that half the dialogue in City of God consisted of, “Fuck you Stringy. Me and Blacky and Carrot are going to snort some coke and go to the disco then the beach. Cool.” Another aspect of the film that I found highly satisfying was its otherworldliness. Remember Star Wars? Probably because it was the only movie I watched three dozen times before I was ten-years-old, but I will forever have the cantina scene from Star Wars etched into my mind as an example of how movies can transport you literally to somewhere else. The Mos Isely cantina was just so… so different. I had not, and still haven’t, seen any place like it. The whole of City of God filled me with that same feeling. This is taking place on my planet? What? Where? And I’ve even spent some time in Argentina and Panama. I was amazed at how foreign and truly fantastic the whole film looked and felt. Never seen nothing like it.

There were two things that didn’t grab me about City of God. One was the story, which just wasn’t all that satisfying. Lund and Meirelles, the directors, seem to have gone to the Guy Ritchie Story-Telling Academy where it is taught that substance can be sacrificed for style. Better put, could you imagine watching a Tarantino film about the Holocaust? Me, neither, but it felt like that from time to time. Secondly, this movie was violent to the point that I went numb. It is bloodier than Rambo, bloodier than Red Dawn – literally, just nonstop murder. Half of it coming from eleven-year-old children, who just shoot people and then laugh and hi-five each other. I’m not saying the movie should be banned or anything like that. But after the 50th homicide, I just couldn’t relate. Some will argue that because it is a true story, all that killing had a place. Sure, I guess, but I wouldn’t want to watch two solid hours of Rwandan machete slaughter, either. The movie was effective insomuch as I have crossed Brazil off my list of places to visit. Well, maybe the country has mellowed since the seventies… Maybe.

What happens? There is a horrid slum called City of God near Rio where in the sixties Brazilian officials began shipping undesirables and homeless families off to. Naturally it becomes the most dangerous “hood” in all the land. A true cinematic maniac named L’il Zé (He used to be called L’il Dice, but after he became a disciple of Satan, he changed his name. Really.) consolidates his power by killing most of the rival drug dealers in City of God. There is one competitor left named Carrot who Zé leaves alone because his rival is friends with his right hand man, Bene. The years go by and L’il Zé just goes crazy and decides that he has to rub Carrot out. Bene, the buffer, has turned into a hipster hippie and him and his girl have decided to move to a farm so they can smoke pot full time. At Bene’s going away party, all sorts of craziness goes down, Bene gets killed, and L’il Zé makes a mortal enemy named Knockout Ned. Carrot and Ned join forces and a complete and total war breaks out in City of God. They recruit kids that are probably as young as seven and just give ’em revolvers then send the brats into battle.

The narrator of the whole thing is an eighteen-year-old named Rocket. When L’il Zé was L’il Dice, he killed Rocket’s older brother. Strangely, Rocket doesn’t seem all too troubled by this. Nor is upset when Bene steals his super hot girlie.Instead, Rocket just seems to go with it and concentrates all his energies on getting high and getting laid. Oh, and he wants to be a photographer. To me, the best parts of the movie involve Rocket and his struggles. First to make something of himself and second to lose his virginity. There is a great sequence where Rocket tries unsuccessfully to become a “hood” but he is just such a nice guy he can’t actually rob anybody. At one point him and his friend try to rob a café, but wind up getting the counter girl’s phone number. Later, when they are attempting to mug a “jerk” from Sau Palo, Rocket winds up rolling a joint with the napkin the counter girl wrote her number on. However, as soon as I was getting into Rocket and his struggles, he gets plunged into the reality of City of God. Soon children are killing each other and all you can think about is how horrid the whole damn situation is. A totally mindless war that is so ignoble in its origins, so totally debased in its methods and purpose, that I just wanted it all to end.

A funny side note is the fact that the film was produced by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. The same Ministry of Culture that got mad at The Simpsons for portraying Brazil in a negative light. I mean if they thought Homer getting kidnapped by a cab driver will keep the tourists away, City of God is going to convince W. Bush to send in the fucking marines! City of God, however, is the biggest thing out of Brazil since VW engines, so this movies is getting PR like crazy. That’s hypocrites for you. Still, the movie has a hell of a lot going for it and I would advise all of you to watch it. Just be prepared for some of the most stomach-turning violence you’ll ever witness and a story that is so pathetically sad and pointless that you’ll be in a very bad mood for a couple of days. Or at least nauseous. Sorry Ebert, but I just do not agree. City of God is good, but it’s not great. I would like to see these directors tackle another script, though. One with a better story. Besides, Ebert gave that basket case Gangs of New York 3 1/2 stars. Corporate pawn/whore.

Ruthless Ratings:

  • Overall: 7
  • Direction: 10
  • Acting: 8
  • Story: 4
  • Re-watchability: 5

Special Ruthless Ratings:

  • Number of times you thought about visiting Brazil before you saw City of God: 12
  • Number of times during the movie that you told yourself, “Don’t go there”: 54
  • Number of times you thought the kid who played Rocket was amazing: 30
  • Number of times the camera work left you breathless, or at least really, really impressed: 28
  • Number of times you felt sick watching little kids shoot each other with glee: 3
  • Number of times you wished that they had pushed the Satan angle more: 13
  • Number of times you kept waiting for it to get really good, based off of what Ebert said: 19
  • Number of times you wished there was a way for you to just watch movies without hearing any critique before hand: 8
About Jonny Lieberman

Jonny was the site’s co-founder and helped carry the place in the early years. There was a falling out with Erich and he left the site for good, but a lot of his reviews live on. He has moved on to a successful career writing about cars. Look him up.