City of Men
Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
In 2002, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles scored a major international success with City of God, in which two lifelong friends from the slums of Rio de Janeiro end up on different paths. One becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer. This gritty, edgy urban drama was nominated for four Academy Awards, and nearly a hundred other international film prizes, winning half of them.
In a sequel, of sorts, Meirelles is on board as executive producer for director Paulo Morelli on City of Men. It’s based on the Brazilian TV series, which ran from 2002 to 2005, and still has a huge following in that country on video.
Two lifelong friends, Ace and Wallace, have been inseparable all of their lives… much like the “womb to tomb; birth to earth” relationship of Tony and Riff in West Side Story. Ace is 18, married and with a young son. Although his son Clayton was an “oops,” Ace feels put-upon having to take care of the boy while his wife earns a living for the family. Wallace is within days of turning 18, which is a major event for him. Neither has a father. Ace’s father was killed in a robbery. Wallace has never known who his father was. And now he wants to find him.
They both live in the hillside areas of Rio, slums and shanties built straight up the mountainside as far as the eye can see. At the bottom of the hill are the beach and the ocean. Ace’s cousin is the leader of the major drug gang that rules the turf. The young lady with whom Wallace is smitten is the sister of the leader of the rival gang, with intentions of taking over.
The West Side Story quotations are all over this film, but do not detract from the basic story of friendship and manhood under the most adverse of conditions.
The lead actors, Douglas Silva and Darlan Cunha, had small, younger roles in City of God, and have graduated nicely to the leads in this film. They are both natural, engaging actors, and convey two young men who have more to live for than what their lot in life has presented. Are they going to accept responsibility for their own lives, or will they lapse into taking what’s easy and available, and become two more victims of the drug gang culture.
The later scenes, in which they discover they have something more in common than either would ever imagine, are tense and touching, and lead to a very satisfying conclusion to this hard-edged story.
City of Men is shot in a naturalistic, sometimes hand-held camera style that is not jarring, but exhilarating. The music is good, and the film glides along at a speedy pace. It’s a nicely balanced blend of action, heart, humanity, and discovery.