Albie Hay’s review published on Letterboxd:
The main character of City of God is Rocket, born and raised on the eponymous favela. As a child, he is at the centre of a community where petty crime flourishes at the hands of the "Tender Trio". But as he and his friends grow older, we see the ambitious and violent Li'l Zé killing his way to the top of the burgeoning drugs racket competition and becoming powerful. While Rocket, who has a passion for photography, finds his talents can reap a reward by giving him a means of escape, those around him are drawn inexorably into what is fast becoming a living hell.
City of God is possibly one of the best-directed films ever. Fernando Meirelles and co-director Kátia Lund juxtapose the grittiness of the story and setting with snazzy editing and vigorous cinematography to invest the film with a bracing immediacy. Key moments are viewed from multiple perspectives in order to probe into the rich histories of the people they concern. Meirelles and Lund are always looking for interesting ways to film things, with a strong example of this being the riveting party scene, in which strobe lighting makes the violence that unfolds almost imperceptible and the end of the scene therefore more impactful. In fact all of the violence, and there is lots of it, is rendered in as candid a manner as possible to convey how integral it is to these people's way of life.
The film is exceedingly harrowing, and I'll probably never forget certain moments on account of their intensity. But this is a film that seeks to tell the truth, however gloomy it might be. The pessimism is sustained till the very end, when instead of redemption we get a continuation of the cycle we see to have emerged. If the actions that pass between the occupants of the City of God have ever been as violent as this film suggests, and that's certainly the impression we get from watching it, then we can only commend the two directors for re-creating history in a way that, while grim, is never downbeat.