In the City of God, "People got used to living in Vietnam, and more and more volunteers signed up to die." Based on a true story, City of God is the riveting tale of the 1960s takeover of Cicade de Deus, a Brazilian slum permeated by drug cartels and organized crime. The film is narrated by Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), an easy-going, honest adolescent of the City of God, who dreams of becoming a photographer to escape the world of violence that seduces each of his comrades. On the opposite side of the film's long list of characters with atypical nicknames is Li'l Dice, a sadistic, power-hungry juvenile who robs, murders, and cheats his way to become the offical crime lord of the City of God.
Rocket and Li'l Dice cross paths frequently throughout the film, beginning a decade earlier with an innocent game of soccer that introduces the Tender Trio - Shaggy (Jonathan Haagensen), Clipper (Jefechander Suplino), and Goose (Renato de Souza) - a group of rag-tag, amateur hoods who operate Robin Hood style by robbing gas trucks and local businesses, sharing the loot with the community. The group is eventually dispersed when Li'l Dice, out of his own blood-thirsty ambition, convinces them to rob a local motel. Although the holdup does not go as planned for the trio, it bolsters Li'l Dice into the driver's seat on a journey in which he is given the new moniker Li'l Ze and conquers all the drug cartels in the City of God with his charmismatic, child-hood friend, Benny, at his side. However, the pedestal begins to wobble, when Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge), a quiet, ex-army officer with a killer aim, joins forces with Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele), Li'l Ze's main competition on the drug circuit and all out war begins in the city where, as Rocket observes, "if you run away, they get you and if you stay, they get you too."
Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, City of a God was a ground-breaking success in its native Brazil, starring actual natives of the Brazilian shanty towns known as favelas and even some from the City of God itself. The film's round-circle style accelerates the plot, which is jam-packed with a string of intense action scenes rife with heart-stopping excitement and profound emotion. However, the film's strongest aspect is its unveiled depiction of the harsh world of drug dealing, organized crime, and federal corruption. Despite its large cast of characters (which featured Matheus Nachtergaele as the only professional actor), every performance, from secondary roles to crowd extras, has some significance in the film's plot. That most of the scenes were improvised by inexperienced actors rather than doggedly rehearsed only enhances their genuity. Overall, an awe-inspiring crowd-pleaser that tops the list of universal crime-dramas.
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