City of Men DVD: Review By Dodd

If I had seen City of Men as a film by itself without any knowledge of City of God, I would perhaps think it is a superb film. However, the film clearly identifies itself as a follow-up to City of God and therefore pales in comparison.
  • OVERALL
    3.0
    WORTHY
  • Feature
  • Picture
  • Sound
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
The film tells an emotionally-involved story....
THE BAD
...but it noticeably does not live up to its predecessor.
THE FEATURE
There are films that I love and films that somehow become solidified in my life as classics that will stand the tests of time. The latter films are not the kind of movies that immediately identidy themselves with these traits. Instead they beckon me to revisit them year after year until one day I realize they were great when I saw them, they are wonderful, and they will always mean something to avid movie lovers in the future. Probably the most recent film on that list for me is City of God. The film directed by Fernando Meirelles was an eye-opening drama from 2003 that left an impression on me with its gritty storytelling and innovative direction. In fact it also left an impression on many critics which therefore got the attention of the studios which can only mean that a sequel was the way to go. Serving as a follow-up to City of God is City of Men.

Now City of Men is not necessarily a sequel in the sense that it does not revisit the same characters nor does it pay attention to the happenings of the first film. Instead if takes us back to Rio De Janeiro where things a still lousy for its residents. Acerola (Souglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha) are boyhood friends who have withstood the slums together. Both are about to turn 18. While Laranjinha feels a sense of liberation approaching, Acerola does not feel the same sentiments as he is a young father with a toddler son.

Just like the original film, the protagonists are good guys who we root for and want to survive the numerous gangs who kill and steal with unaffected expressions. The gang that dominates "the hill" has a falling out causing one gang member to form his own posse and develop plans for living the city. Meanwhile, Laranjinha, feeling the desire to do something important at the age of 18, sets out to find who his father is. Like many of the children in the neighborhood, his life was deprived of a father figure with no one to turn to but the other bastard children who roam the streets with pistols in hand. The question is posed as to whether or not Laranjinha and Acerola will stay close-knit through thick and thin, or if one of them will lose their sensibilities or even their lives to the gang life in their neighborhood.

If I had seen City of Men as a film by itself without any knowledge of City of God, I would perhaps think it is a superb film. However, the film clearly identifies itself as a follow-up to City of God and therefore pales in comparison. This is not to say that City of Men is a bad film, but it is a lot like enjoying a delectable filet mignon for dinner one night and then eating salted ground chuck the next night. It is not that the ground chuck is not good, but it certainly makes you appreciate the richness of the filet. My negative criticism of City of Men is that it didn't even need to be made, particularly since original director Fernando Merelles wasn't going to step up to the plate as director once more.

But I do not want to get too immersed in negativity. After all, the economy is enough of a downer as it is. City of Men, like the first film, once again filled me with a sense of gratefulness and comfort. How can one not be thankful when they see a true-to-life film about a ghetto where children are completely deprived of strong parental figures and make their first kills when they are 9 years-old? Like the good guy Rocket in the first film, Laranjinha and Acerola are those with hearts of goodness in this dark and dreary place, and the actors play the roles well. New director, Paulo Morelli, also deserves praise for creating a film that not only makes the actors characters, but makes the neighborhood itself a character of all-encompassing darkness and brutality.
THE EXTRAS
Like the local supply of caviar in Rio de Janeiro, the extras here are slim pickens. We get a whopping one featurette that clocks in at about 15 minutes. It covers a lot of bases from the editing to the actor's thoughts to the direction. However, it also moves at a half-assed pace with hopes of covering everything in such a limited amount of time.
THE VIDEO
Widescreen. Director Paulo Morelli takes a different approach from Meirelles which I have to commend as Morelli could have just aped the previous director's style. Rather than utilizing techniques from the first film such as 360 degree shots, he goes for a more straightforward filmmaking approach. Then again, the insanely unique directing style of the first film is part of what attracted me to it so much.
THE AUDIO
5.1 Dolby Surround. The film has a local score to it with intense, drum-like beats.
THE PACKAGE
The movie comes on one disc that is packaged in a standard DVD keep case. The case pictures the main characters on the front along with a shot of a criminal holding pistols in both hands and overlooking the neighborhood.
THE FINAL WORD
City of Men is a good film that is worth renting on video, but that is about as far as I would take the relationship. This is a well-done follow-up project that develops strong characters and tells an engrossing story, but it is not the type of film I want to revisit in awe as I did with City of God. It is a worthy follow-up but not even close to filling those classic shoes of its predecessor. I realize one should not rate a sequel compared to the original, but how can you not? They essentially are supposed to work together as one unified whole and if one component does not work, then there are problems. Set this aside for the Netflix queue in position #20 and then move on with life.

dodd@movieweb.com

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