Youíve seen this before: a gangster movie. The ghetto, the slums, the people within. Those who seek to elevate themselves from the reality of their surroundings via brutal control, theft and the selling of drugs. Yes, it is a familiar story but, to severally paraphrase Harold Bloom, all new tales must live in the shadow of those that preceded them. That being the case, we can overlook familiarity when it is delivered so well. City of God is a prime example.
Set in a Brazilian ghetto, City of God centers on the young life of its narrator, Rocket, a young boy who grows to manhood all the while witnessing his neighborhood turn into a war zone of gang rivalry, and somehow remaining just barely outside of it all. Within his story we meet thugs and dealers who dispose of their enemies without a second thought and we see the devastation of their actions. Every one of these gangsters Rocket comes in contact with shifts from being utterly heartless thugs to very sympathetic characters so quickly that it is impossible to simply hate them. Bad guys show a human side and good guys lose their humanity all before Rocketís eyes, and ours.
Twisting from story to story, all weaving into a brilliant tapestry, City of God delivers its story in a fast and exciting visual style that flavors and never once overwhelms. Too many directors seem more concerned with visual trickery than telling a story, but directors Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles use their flair to the advantage of the film as a whole. While watching this dazzling, gritty story unfold I never felt as though I were expected to be impressed by what the camera was doing. I never felt condescended to or insulted and I never rolled my eyes at the silly pop culture references. I wish I could say the same about the prodigious Pulp Fiction imitators. The directors, and City of God itself, are smarter than that.
In accepting Bloomís philosophy of art we understand that stories are going to be retold and some themes will always be. The gritty, urban crime tales will never go away, but so long as they are executed as well as City of God, I see no reason why they should. This is a film that has gotten me excited about film again- just when I thought that was impossible. See it at all costs.