The turbulent teenage gangster drama City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles is a Brazilian film that represents and portrays the violence and horrors of living within the Brazilian Slums, known as favelas. The slums of Rio de Janeiro – is, at the best and worst of times are hell. One third of the Rio de Janeiro's population are living in these slums. God is nowhere to be found. Poverty is the way of life. Greed, drugs, and violence rule these streets. The ability to use a gun is more important than the ability to read and write.
In the 1970s, Li'l Dice has become Li'l Zé , a remorseless hood who kills his way to the top of the heap by murdering all the drug gang leaders ("At 18, he was the most respected hood in Rio De Janero"). Although Rocket wants to avenge his brother, he also wants to stay out of trouble. Amazingly, his career as a journalist is kicked off by accident when Zé forces him to photograph him and his gang and the picture ends up on the front of the paper. Zé's violent aspirations are spinning out of control, with his heinous acts of murder. Every act of vengeance generates another however, and soon the slums is a war-zone.
The film has been compared with Scorsese's "GoodFellas," and it deserves the comparison. The script, adapted from the novel by Paulo Lins, proves tighter than one might feel while watching the finished product. It creates a complex, non-linear narrative construction while maintaining a clear through line, the eventful movie is given a lively dynamic by its constant shifts in focus to foreground different characters.
In addition to shooting style, color is used keenly. Devices such as split screen, slow-mo, jump cuts and whiplash pans add to the visual texture. The machine-gun editing, which makes stylistic transitions to differentiate between the each periods(60's, 70's, 80's). Director Fernando Meirelles has crafted a distinctive motion picture – one takes us into the streets with an unsurpassed intensity and immediacy. Despite the grim, serious nature of the subject matter, Meirelles unearths occasional moments of humor, although they are often of the dark variety.
Director Meirelles cast the film largely with non-actors, mostly young males, who were discovered in the various slums around Rio de Janeiro in an extensive and non-traditional casting process.The violence in City of God isn't glorified, but is extreme and shocking, even though there is virtually no blood. Death is no respecter of age in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The immediate goal of a seven-year old homeless boy is not finding a family or a friend, but finding a gun.
The message of the movie might be, that, in a culture where violence begets violence, only the names change. When one gang lord is deposed, another will rise in his place. And, as often as not, it's the children, more than the adults, who have to be watched.