Some movies change your life. This is one of them. It’s the story of a kid named Rocket and his struggles to escape the crime and gang activity that surrounds him in the City of God. It’s a Brazilian film and all the dialog is in Portuguese with English subtitles. A lot of people are thrown off by movies that require reading, but this is one of the best movies of all time, so don’t let a little reading deter you from experiencing this film.
The movie starts with a chicken escaping some gangsters. That’s the ideal way to start any movie by the way. The gang is running after the chicken and they cross paths with Rocket, our main character and narrator. Rocket thinks that the gang wants to kill him and the films jumps to a flashback to explain why.
It begins with the tale of the Tender Trio who spend their days doing small robberies and heists in their slum town called the City of God. Rocket’s older brother is Goose is one third of the trio, the other members are Shaggy and Clipper. The Tender Trio share their loot with the citizens in exchange for protection from the police. A young hoodlum named Li’l Dice wants his shot at the big time and he plans a hotel robbery with the Tender Trio. He’s too young to participate so they make him the lookout. Instead of keeping an eye out, he shoots the fuck out of the hotel occupants. The slaughter draws the attention of the cops and marks the end of the Tender Trio and the rise of Li’l Dice.
The movie jumps forward a few years to the ‘70s. Rocket is busy trying to stay out of trouble. He’s developed an interest in photography but is more preoccupied with losing his virginity. Li’l Dice is more preoccupied with power and wants to control the City of God. He changes his name to Li’l Zé and starts to kill off all the drug dealers to get their turf and customers. Li’l Zé’s partner in crime is Benny. While Li’l Zé is ruthless and cruel, Benny is popular and cool. He’s still a gangster, but he’s not bloodthirsty.
Zé takes over all the competition, except for a dealer named Carrot who is friends with Benny. There’s a brief period of peace for a minute, but then a gang of street kids called the Runts don’t respect the fact that there’s a new boss in town. Zé has a recruit kill a Runt to send a message. Zé also decides that he wants all the turf and wants to kill Carrot, the only thing stopping him is Benny.
Benny dies because that’s what happens when you live by the gun. And Carrot knows that Zé wants to kill him, so he starts to recruit an army. Carrot joins forces with Knockout Ned. At one point Knockout Ned was a peaceful citizen, but then Zé raped his girlfriend, killed his brother, and tried to kill Ned. So there’s a little beef between the two.
The movie moves into the ‘80s, with Carrot and Knockout Ned’s army continuously engaged in combat with Zé’s army… the sides keep recruiting and getting more firepower and the violence continuously escalates. Rocket gets an opportunity to photograph Zé and it gets published in the newspaper. Rocket thinks that his life is now in danger, and the movie comes back full circle to the beginning with Li’l Zé’s gang chasing a chicken and running into Rocket, and him fearing for his life.
What happens next is cool and I won’t give it away. But you should have seen this movie already. In fact, why haven’t you? It should be required viewing. That’s my new rule; you can’t watch any more movies until you see this one.
On the surface, the movie is about crime in the slums of Brazil. If you dig a little deeper, you realize that’s its just the exploits of a horny kid trying to get laid in the slums while occasionally having run-ins with the criminals that control his city. He’s on a quest to lose his virginity, but he doesn’t try very hard and often sabotages his chances.
Most of the actors aren’t actors. The majority are from real slums, some even from the real City of God. They were sent to actor’s workshop for a little while so they wouldn’t suck on camera, and the end result is a film that feels real, that feels like a documentary. Some of their performances will haunt you.
See this movie. Right now. It’s practically a perfect movie. The only downside is that it is subtitled. If it weren’t for my occasional drunken laziness influencing my rating, this would be a perfect score. If you are tired or drunk you don’t want to deal with reading subtitles. But if you are alert and sober, give it a go.
Critically Rated at 16.5/17