City of God (12/23/12)

City of GodMovie Two Hundred Ninety Five

The City of God is an autobiographical tale about crime and growing up in the poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro.

Narrated by Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) from the 1960s through the 1980s in the impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhood he grew up in. It started with three older boys doing simple stick-ups and then a young kid, maybe around eight, named Li’l Dice (Douglas Silva) gets his start as a hoodlum and his eventual rise to power as one of two of the neighborhood’s most powerful drug lords, changing his moniker to Li’l Zé (Leandro Firmino). Somehow Rocket is able to avoid a life of time and pursue photography and tells the interweaving tale of the City of God.

Few movies impress me on both a technical level and also move me emotionally and City of God had me glued to the screen despite some of the horrific imagery. City of God is one of the most unflinchingly violent movies I’ve ever seen and yet very little blood is actually spilled onscreen. The brutality is clear and the story is all the more engrossing because of it.

It’s shocking to me that people actually live in a place like Rio de Janeiro and know nothing but poverty and crime. I suppose that isn’t limited just to Rio de Janiero, but for a city that has the potential to be simply breathtakingly beautiful to be so ugly is fascinating. City of God seems so visceral that it’s easy to forget you are watching a film and not a documentary, not unlike Battle of Algiers or Gomorrah. While the events in City of God are fictionalized to a point, the main players are real, you can look them up. I didn’t know this before watching City of God and it’s pretty amazing that Rocket (well, actually Paulo Lins, who wrote the novel City of God) even survived. I actually thought it may end up being a simple coming-of-age story until the story takes a dark turn.

City of God is a movie that I knew needed to be watched but I don’t think the praise I’ve heard has done the film justice. I was expecting a really great movie and somehow even my lofty expectations were not high enough. City of God is stunning and awe-inspiring but also almost too much to take in. While I loved it, it’s maybe even one of the best films I watched all year, it’s a film that I’m not sure I could watch very often. It’s not exactly depressing, but it’s close to it.

If you are like me and know that you need to see City of God but haven’t yet, I implore you to do it as soon as you get a chance. If you’ve never heard of City of God before now, please take my word for it and go watch it. If more movies like City of God came out around the world, I don’t think Hollywood would be the force it is today.

I give it 5 Rocket’s camera out of 5.


Rotten Tomatoes


29 responses to “City of God (12/23/12)

  1. I’ve always wanted to watch this movie, but I felt that maybe it was too intense for me. I have a list of movies that scares me (emotionally speaking) and this movie is my number 1. One day, I’ll be “strong” enough to watch it, but for now, I’m going to settle for your great review.

  2. Good review – I’ve had this movie recorded for ages and keep saying to myself that I’ll watch it someday. It always seems too “heavy” for my mood. It’s the second highest rated IMDB top 250 movie that I haven’t seen so I’ll make myself watch it eventually!

    • It is kind of heavy but not so much so that you need to really prepare for it. The movie isn’t out and out depressing, or it doesn’t seem to try to be, it just tells a story which is pretty depressing most of the time.

  3. This is such a compelling film to watch. It has the gritty feel of a documentary (which to be fair is really, just dramatised) and it shows the “underbelly” of Rio’s street people. The poor and forgotten. Brilliant film and great review. It is the only South American film I own on DVD.

  4. Great review. I have this film. I’ve had it for a while, but the time’s never felt right. My man’s seen it and he knows I’m not great with gratuitously violent films, but this one sounds important and, going by your description, it seems like it’s more psychological than anything else… I shall watch it next time I’m on the island. Many of my films remain up there! 🙂 (Can’t wait to read your Highlander review, by the way!!!)

    • There is a lot of violence but it doesn’t seem to be as “in your face” as it could have been. There may still be a few parts where you want to cover your eyes if you’re really adverse to it, though. Still, worth getting through the violent parts for the story as a whole.

      • I definitely will watch it. It’s weird, I really like a lot of American gangster films (just out of interest, what’s your take on ‘Gangster Squad’, you seen it or does it look good to you?) so it’s crazy that I have such an issue with violence… Still, going to watch this soon. 🙂

  5. Compelling review.

    I’m in the middle of screening films for a festival, but once I’m done I’ll give this one a go. I already put it on my instant queue.

    Thanks for the write-up. Like you this one has been on my radar, but I just haven’t gotten to it.

  6. Nice one Andy, I couldn’t agree more here man. I love it so much that it’s been included in my personal top ten for many years. It has kept out films like Pulp Fiction which has surprised a few people. However, only those that have seen this can truly appreciate why.

  7. I saw Robert Altman speak at an event just prior to his death, and a film student asked him what films he’s liked recently. He gave the cranky old man response “I don’t go to the movies. I’m too busy making them.” he back-peddled a moment later. He uncharacteristically apologized, and said that he had just seen City of God. He called it one of the best films he ever saw. I sought it out that day, and can’t help but agree. Such a powerful film. Seu Gorge was amazing. Great Review!!

  8. Well said. I was actually just watching this again the other day. It has such a high level of energy, I found it hard to even get up and grab a soda for fear of missing anything. And I had even seen it before!

    • I have one (maybe both?) of the Elite Squad movies in the Netflix queue, where they’ve been sitting for some time. I’ve heard nothing but good things about them, I should really check them out soon.

  9. Pingback: My December Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

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