Decade Reviews – City of God (2002) – Reviewed 6/11/04 & 9/20/14

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A decade ago, I was a teenager in high school. I had my first job at my local movie theater and used my newfound disposable income to get a Netflix subscription.

Over the summer of 2004, 17/18 year old Matt wrote 21 movie reviews and posted them on IMDb. Recently, I dug up these reviews and decided to revisit each movie and evaluate how my tastes have changed over the last decade.

So for each of these posts, I will write a present-day review and then copy/paste the original review after. Then I’ll compare the two and give a summary at the end. You can find all the reviews herefollow me on Twitter here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, lets talk about City of God.

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My 2014 Review

2002’s City of God is an exploration of the cyclical nature of crime and violence in the slums of Rio De Janeiro that bear the movie’s name. It takes the point of view of an aspiring photographer named Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) during the turf wars and senseless violence that riddled the slum in the 60s and 70s.

As the narrator, Rocket gives the audience an intimate view of the rise and fearful reign of the slum’s erratic crime lord Li’l Zé (Leandro Firmino) through a captivating, non-linear story. By telling the story this way, the movie shows us glimpses of key moments in the childhoods of Rocket and Li’l Zé that help forge their respective destinies.

city of god lil ze and kidWe meet Li’l Zé when he eagerly becomes affiliated with a trio of stick up artists known as the Tender Trio. Rocket, on the other hand, has a normal, peaceful childhood and takes to heart a warning his brother Goose (Renato de Souza) (1/3 of The Tender Trio) gives him to not become a hoodlum. As the two grow older, they have minimal interaction but their stories intersect in surprising ways.

City of God collects a bevy of intricate and intimately connected storylines. As the story unravels, the movie quickly becomes an exercise in the art of fine tuned storytelling as Rocket divulges key plot points and revisits key players at precise moments. By telling its story this way, City of God becomes difficult to turn away from.

city of god rocket with cameraThere’s a certain charm that counterbalances the violence, however. City of God peppers coming of age situations for Rocket throughout the movie. This could have really detracted from the plot. However, these stories are so deftly told that I became just as wrapped up in them as I did with the overarching storyline. It’s in these supporting moments where the depth of City of God really shined for me.

City of God’s beauty is in its handling of a bleak subject matter. It presents its story in a way that’s engaging without glorifying any of the violence. The storytelling in City of God is well crafted and presented to the audience in the form of a highly entertaining and likeable narrator.

Obsessive Grade: Blind Buy

A movie fan is only as good as his or her movie collection. Titles that earn this grade are worth adding to your collection sight unseen and at full price.

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My 2004 Review

GREAT FILM!!! ****

11 June 2004

*-Catch it on TV **-Worth a Rental ***-Buy it Used ****-Worthy of a Blind Buy

Right off the bat I am going to give this film ****. I had been waiting to see City of God for a while and now that I finally have I really enjoyed it. This film was well made on so many levels. It is definitely worthy of a blind buy and in the following review I am going to do my best to let you all know why.

City of God is about life in a slum called (you guessed it) the City of God in Rio De Jeniero, Brazil. It tells the history of gang presence in the slum with amazing pace. What is most notable about this film is that the story is told by probably the only neutral character in the slum. Rocket is an aspiring photographer who is the only innocent person we really meet in the City of God. He tells the story of Li’l Zé’s rise to the rank of boss of the slum while taking the time to familiarize himself with the audience. While in some ways Li’l Zé’s monopolization of the City of God has a positive effect on the slum’s impoverished residents, it eventually leads the slum from bad to worse.

There are a few subplots that stray away from Li’l Zé’s struggle to gain power. Some of the subplots involve Rocket as he works to become a photographer, his brief and comical brush with crime, and his neverending struggle to lose his virginity. All of these tie in nicely with the story and the audience never feels that they do not belong in the film.

City of God has a very documentary feel to it which makes it seem authentic. Actually, if I am not mistaken, the film was based on true events, which is a frightening thought. The film is quite violent too. However, it is not the violence that stays with you after watching it. It is the fact that many of the people shooting at and killing others are just kids. In the film, there are small children who, as one put it, “smoke, snort, kill, and rob.” This makes them feel like men. This is quite disturbing as the children look as if they are no where near their tenth birthday, and many of them will never see theirs. City of God utilizes this to leave a profound effect on the audience long after the movie is overwith, which is why I felt compelled to give this film ****. I was prepared to buy it without seeing it and am now going to make it the next film to grace my dvd collection.

city of god lil ze rocket picture

Summing Up: Then and Now

I’m pretty surprised how okay I am with my 2004 review. I read the title of my review and started dreading getting to it. The title “GREAT FILM!!! ****” makes me cringe slightly because I remember that 17 year old Matt was all about sounding pretentious by using the word “film” and then immediately knocking down his credibility by overusing exclamation points and typing in all caps like a13 year old girl.

That being said, I’m happy with my review in 2004 and I’m really glad I revisited this movie.

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