March 12, 2008

City of Men

Grade: B
Director: Paulo Morelli
Starring: Douglas Silva, Darlan Cunha, Jonathan Haagensen, and Rodrigo dos Santos
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Based on the long-running Brazilian television series, itself spun-off from director/producer Fernando Meirelles’ stunning – and superior – City of God, City of Men is a gritty, sun-baked saga that at times seems more like “City of Demigod.” Standing on its own merits, however, this loose sequel carries a stylistic and emotional impact.

The film revisits the jigsaw favelas of Rio de Janeiro, namely the gang-infested, appropriately named Dead End Hill. Against that hardscrabble backdrop, writer-director Paulo Morelli crafts a coming-of-age story about two teenage friends who face tough, life-or-death decisions about the path each will take as they embark on adulthood. Acerola (Douglas Silva) impregnated his teenage girlfriend, but unlike many others in his circumstance, he married her and dedicated himself toward becoming a father to their young son. Meanwhile, his friend Laranhjinha (Darlan Cunha) yearns to establish a relationship with his father (Rodrigo dos Santos), recently paroled after serving time for manslaughter

Silva and Cunha – who appeared in different roles in City of God – are terrific as the devoted yet conflicted buddies, whose own relationship is eventually tested by the unearthed sins of their fathers. However, the most compelling character is the verisimilitude of the naturalistic setting, a bustling micro-society that is both beautiful and misbegotten, where one’s future is determined either by bloodline or a gun barrel.

Neil Morris

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