I heard lots of good things about this movie, mainly for its realistic depiction of crime in the 'City of God', the name of a slum area in Rio de Janeiro.
I was a bit apprehensive, as I was afraid it would be too violent and disturbing to watch. But it didn't turn out as violent as I thought it was. Yes, lots of gang killings and violence takes place, but it doesn't revel in them unlike many of today's unimaginative and horrible torture movies that masquerade themselves under the horror category. City of God does its best to hide the graphic nature of the violence and only uses them to illustrate how dangerous and desperate the area is.
It is filled with many fascinating characters, each with his own storyline. I found myself believing that these were real people and not merely roles played in a movie. The main character is a gang druglord named Li'l Ze. We are introduced to him starting from when he was a little kid hanging out with a bunch of local thugs. At first, it is amusing to see how eager he is to try to fit in with the older guys and show that he will make a good gangster in the future. Then the film fast forwards to the point where he is all grown up and now quite a scary character capable of much violence filled with his desire to control the City of God.
The other main character is a young boy named Rocket, who somehow manages to avoid getting himself involved with the rampant crime and violence. He grows up to be a struggling newspaper errand boy, with a passion for photography. These two characters - Li'l Ze and Rocket frequently bump into each other at critical junctions, and their paths finally cross in the climactic final scene.
The sequencing of scenes are very nicely done and serves to advance the story in a captivating way. Through this method of storytelling, we are introduced to the secondary characters of the City of God - Benny, the popular gang leader and best friend and partner of Li'l Ze. Knockout Ned, the humble unassuming slum resident who is unwillingly drawn into the gang violence. We also get to know Rocket's love interest, Angelica, and Carrot, the rival drug lord to Li'l Ze's empire.
An interesting side note is how big the class differences are in Brazil. You've got the poorest of the poor living in the City of God slums, and we get a small glimpse of the other side in the newspaper scenes, where it seems like a very different country. The income gap between rich and poor is as wide as the differences between first and third world countries.
This was an entertaining and fascinating film to watch which I highly recommend.
Rating: 4/5 * * * *
Great characters and realistic story.