City of God

City of God ★★★★½

One of the most popular foreign language films ever made City of God is indeed an impressive work.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Paulo Lins this is an undeniably gritty feature. Writer Bráulio Mantovani and Director Fernando Meirelles do terrific work here. What I find most impressive is that unlike many American made films about gangsters City of God goes to great lengths to portray this lifestyle as the farthest possible thing from glamorous. Indeed much of the time it looks pretty grim. What City of God presents to us is the shocking reality of gangland life as we see regular brutal murders and even the phenomenon of child murderers and children murdering other children which is something Hollywood productions often shy away from showing. Some really violent moments are shown here almost casually which highlights the normality of such horrific events in the city and also the sadistic nature of them. 

Fernando Meirelles does a brilliant job here in visually presenting the horrendous squalor and poverty the characters here live in. The slums are always shown as overcrowded, dirty, depressing places that are usually sickeningly bright in colour that underscore the violence that occurs within them and through seeing the characters all moving about with shirts off we can almost feel the heat and the tension of these claustrophobic conditions. Although there are some really stylish visual touches from the Director this is always a thoroughly realistic drama that never skirts around its dark subject matter. Meirelles does a brilliant job in ensuring his subject matter always has an edge that makes it remain fresh and tonally different to other pictures within the genre.

A bold decision is also made in the casting of City of God to allow an entirely non-professional cast to play the characters. Although at times this backfires and we have some awkward moments of poor acting it does mean that the action remains realistic and unpredictable. We never feel safe watching this as there are no familiar faces to reassure us that everything will be ok which further increases our insecurity at this world of poverty that really is alien to most of those watching in the wider western world. This means it is a truly frightening watch at times.

To conclude, City of God is a gritty, punchy and surprising crime drama that brings to light the true horrors contained within its subject matter that many pictures examining the same types of material fail to show probably due to censorship. This means that City of God is a far more fascinating, visceral and at times downright ugly feature that remains fresh no matter how many times you see it.

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