Ben Lott’s review published on Letterboxd:
City of God is a film based on the true story of life in the Brazilian slums. It has a little coming-of-age drama, and tells about some boys who grow up and take very different paths in their lives. It seems to be a real struggle for kids to lift themselves out of this difficult place to live, and to escape the dangers of the drug trade. As a result of the atmosphere in the City of God there are no perfectly pure heroes, or even perfectly evil villains. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of this movie is the way they manipulate the audience into rooting for different people at different times. Even Lil Ze, who starts out as the clear-cut villain, actually brings peace to the slums for a time and we sympathize with him when he experiences loss. I also loved how they gave such distinct nicknames to all the characters. Where it could be easy to get lost in the sea of faces, we are easily able to tell everyone apart because they have such unique names. I did struggle to stay invested in the film, however. I wasn't finding a consistent story arc. It almost felt like a historical film or something because we are just shown events in one era, then we move on to the next without any change in our protagonist or his situation. In fact the entire theme of City of God was basically the cyclical nature of violence in the slums. So by the end the entire story starts all over again. This is one of those films that was interesting to watch, but not something I would recommend to most viewers.