Rating: 3.5 out of 5
City of Men is a film adaptation of the Brazilian drama serial of the same name, which was itself loosely spun-off from 2003’s Oscar-nominated City of God. The lineage is a little skewed so while City of Men isn’t a direct sequel to Fernando Meirelles’ crushingly poignant City of God, it’s definitely a spiritual successor.
Set in the violent favelas of Rio de Janeiro, City of Men is essentially a bromance flick hidden underneath all the gang violence and ghetto poverty.
Childhood best friends Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha) are turning 18 and along with that arbitrary age where boys are considered to turn into men, the buddies discover what real adult responsibility entails.
It all sounds pretty ‘Hallmark’ hokey but everything about the manner City of Men is shot and executed sparkles with a vibrant authenticity that beguiles the simplistic storyline.
The best friends get caught up in an ever escalating gang war and discover paternal secrets amidst the general despair and desperation of living in demoniac squalor – all of which threatens to compromise their previously unshakable friendship.
Much like how the favelas’ residents aren’t able to escape the blistering heat wave, the innocent civilians aren’t able to escape the whims of similarly hot-headed homicidal gangsters battling for territorial control.
For a film centred on violence, there is very little graphic blood and gore shown on screen. Most of the shoot outs and even the sex scenes are either depicted off-screen or shrouded in the shadows.
The focus is less on the street savagery and more of the effects of the street savagery on those caught in the crossfire. City of Men is an unflinching but never exploitative look at the lives of once innocent youths rushed into vicious adult lives, often times by necessity.
The emotional core lies in the bond between the two protagonists and their familial struggles. Ace is a lost youth trying to find his father while Wallace is a lost youth trying to find his footing as a father.
The theme of the narrative is that true family isn’t defined by blood and true family also can’t be torn apart by bloodshed. The conflict generated is so ridiculously contrived that it’s ‘eye-roll-inducing’; still, the script’s flaws are saved by Paulo Morelli’s direction.
The hyper-realism established by the hand-held camerawork and terrific performances by the two leads draws you into the slums and leaves you transfixed.
It’s best if you’ve never seen City of God because by comparison, this film just comes across as pale imitation, which is a little unfair. Taken on its own, City of Men is a fine effort anchored by tense drama and solid performances.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, aka inSing.com's Movie Lover, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for Metrowize Asia.
Hidzir is the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.