This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
In the beginning, there was the Word. And the Word was that City of God was quite a good film. And lo, it was Good. And City of God begat the telly-visual series City of Men, which for me at least lives in a Heisenberg-esque state of simultaneous ‘good’ and ‘not good’, a waveform which will perhaps collapse one day should I ever get around to seeing it. And City of Men begat, er, City of Men, the somewhat unoriginally titled movie. And lo, it was Good, But Not A Patch On City of God.
Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha) are two eighteen year old best friends living, if that’s the term, in the favelas of Brazil. Acerola is still coming to terms with parenthood, having inadvertently knocked up Cris (Camila Monteiro). He’s quickly established as something of a blockhead, absentmindedly leaving his young ‘un at the beach to the tender mercies of the local crew of teenage warlords that rule over their patch. As this gang is headed up by Laranjinha’s cousin, this doesn’t end quite as badly as you might imagine, but he’ll have to buck up his ideas after his wife leaves him in sole charge of the sprog as she heads of to Sao Paulo with a job that will hopefully earn her enough to dig them out of the mean streets.
Laranjinha’s mind is weighed down by having never known his father. Acerola feels some of that pain, being an orphan, and decides to help out by tracking down the absentee father. Investigations lead to an ex-con convicted of murder after shooting someone during a robbery, which is perhaps somewhat disappointing but there’s little time for that to sink in before a great deal of shit hits a great deal of fans.
That there gang of teenage warlords undergo something of an automatic weapons based implosion, with Madrugadao (Jonathan Haagensen) taking the support of his right hand man Nefasto (the infeasibly named Eduardo ‘BR’ Piranha) for granted once too often, prompting Nefasto to organise a coup and seize control for himself. Madrugadao barely escapes with his life and a few followers to a friendly gangster’s turf and sets about planning his revenge, while Nefasto banishes Madrugadao’s family from his turf, throwing a spanner in the works for both Laranjinha and Acerola, who’s been sent packing for another contrivance that will only muddy the issue further if I attempt to mention it.
That’s an awful lot to be getting on with, and I haven’t even got to the romantic subplots or Laranjinha’s growing relationship with his father and for the sake of keeping this review to a somewhat manageable length I’d better leave it that way. If there’s a major flaw in this film, it’s probably that there’s simply too much of it. While it’s all kept remarkably clear, and there’s no point at which your left puzzled as to what’s going, the sheer volume of stuff happening across these characters at times threatens to overload the film, and occasionally it’s difficult to work out who the focus of this film is. That can only hinder attempts to empathise with the characters.
Although, thinking about it, it’s kinda difficult to feel any bond with these characters anyway. Not because of any poor performances, everyone involved acquits themselves well, but because their situation is so outwith the realms of anything I’ve experienced at 28 let alone 18 that I’ve about as much in common with them as I do with Martians.
The most difficult scenario I believe I faced when at the same age as our protagonists here was one day where I couldn’t quite decide whether I wanted to buy a Mars Bar or a Double Decker. Having to reconcile with an estranged father, straining a relationship with my best friend while on the run with a gang of armed thugs from an armed gang of thugs is so far outside of my life that I really haven’t got this first idea how I supposed to identify with these guys. I can feel sorry for them, sure, but I’ve no true understanding of their plight and there’s not really enough of an emotional heart to the piece for anything more than a superficial understanding, as towards the end everyone keeps waving their guns around as though it’s what we should really be caring about.
Perhaps it’s just as well. After all the drama and tension between Acerola and Laranjinha, which I’d assumed was the point of the piece, largely develops through borderline ridiculous and certainly contrived coincidences that oddly enough, I’d probably have let slip in glossier productions but for something that still purports to be realistic, for given values of real, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Certainly City of Men is a far lesser work than City of God. It doesn’t have anything like the impact, the flair or the visual inventiveness of the Oscar botherer. Indeed, with different directors and writers, I’m not altogether sure exactly what the bloodline connection with City of God is precisely, and I’m far too lazy to check. At any rate, it might be the lesser film but it’s still a pretty decent one, regardless of my previous bleatings. It’s certainly an absorbing way to cover a couple of hours.