City of God (2002) – The Grand Theft Auto Movie


“City of God” is a film about the rigors of life in Rio de Janeiro called the City of God. It’s an adaptation of a 1997 novel by Paulo Lins. The set was the late 60s to 80s. An inspired-by-true-story movie about a group of young ruling gangsters from childhood to adulthood. They learned from three young men who called themselves the Tender Trio. They always do mischief, steal from vendors who cross the city, and various other criminal acts. Li’l Zé (Leandro Firmino), a boy who learned from the Tender Trio, saw this. He wants to become the slum ruler. As an adult, he, with Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) as his best friend, controlled the City of God. They were controlling the illicit business from drug trafficking, firearm sales, to bank robberies.

Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), brother of Goose and one of the members of the Tender Trio, was fed up with the violence. He prefers to develop his hobby as a professional photographer. Over time, indirectly, the presence in the City of God made him have to continue to deal with Li’l Ze. Until the end, it brought him luck and witnessed history when the longest tyranny in the City of God ended. Two sides tried to survive and fight while defending their ideology who deserves to be the cartel king and ruler of the City of God.

“City of God” is an exploration, not a film about coming-of-age in general, from a cruel, breathtaking, yet terrifying world. It involved so many characters on the slum gangs of the City of God. It became one of the hot topics when talking about another inspired-by-true-story or biopic like Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”. The movie has a narrator, so many historical events involved characters, to the protagonist who goes into the neutral side of the coin. In “City of God”, an exile for Brazilians, for those who are poor people, is amid the crush of limitations appearing in the first place. We saw it from Rocket’s innocent perspective of how he met with Li’l Ze (who was called Li’l Dice when he was a kid), experienced the story of romance for the first time, and became a witness of history.

The movie takes place in Rio, the slums, showing fringe and isolated poor people. The people and big cities in Brazil exiled them. Unlike children in general as well as the environment, they have learned how the law doesn’t work in the City of God. Violent gangs rule the streets, piracy in the middle of the public slum, and so many things happened in the movie. Just like the first opening sequence where it left off and you would think, “how did this happen?”. We jumped back and forth many times, with non-linear narrative techniques and the camera who whirls and shaky in a lot of background. This movie inspired many director-norms in general such as Michael Bay and other directors.

Fernando Meirelles and César Charlone mostly used quick cut and handheld cameras to tell the story using a natural perspective in a documentary-like style. The perspective makes sense because of the danger we watch in the movie happens all the time. Whether someone dies or there would be tension because the two camps can’t wait to start another war, we watch the movie in real-time. Even just by watching the flashback scene, the second you caught the movie so well feel poverty. All structures and the social commentary between the family, neighborhood, status, class, there are so many astonishing sequences. In the end, you don’t believe this is a true story. We just don’t know how it all happened before.

“City of God” won an Oscar nomination with Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Writing, and Best Film Editing. Even though there is no nomination for the actors’ performance, every cast is just so amazing and natural. Leandro Firmino is the most dominant of all. He seems to be a reincarnation of Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction” but with no witty dialogue. You only see how the cruelty and psychopathic aura in him emerge from each appearance. He became one of the most analyzed character studies ever. He has a reason why he is despicable because of the environment. It’s one of the most reasonable things as well. But, that’s because he was only afraid that Benny, his best friend, had left him.

All casts of this film show amazing performance in terms of art direction to become one of the most extensive films from its environment and a crime drama genre. “City of God” does show a dark, hard, and brutal side of the City of God. It’s about how you continue to sympathize with the characters such as Rocket, Benny, and even Li’l Zé. But, the movie, to put it simply, shows two paradoxical things about choosing your path or adapting to the environment. It’s up to us to choose a better and more successful life. But, how do we think to be able to survive until the end? Is this the fault of the City of God or does the City of God always condemn the people who live there?

“City of God” is rich in the environment, the world-building, and the characters. There is no minor character because all characters have their respective important roles. There are so many causes and effects of each character’s actions and choices. This film presents an interesting and emotional story at the same time. It doesn’t try to exploit the real event and isn’t manipulative from beginning to end. Simply, it just looks so natural when you know this is the life of people and we can’t feel it directly.