Kyle Armstrong’s review published on Letterboxd:
Scavenger Hunt #49 | 20/30
Go to a country listed for Movie #8 and find another movie from/in that country!: Brazil
In...Fuckin'....Credible...City of God is the type of epic film that just leaves you with your jaw on the floor, speechless by the end.
I've been meaning to watch this for years when everyone in my shitty emo band rented it from Blockbuster during a band practice I missed. They couldn't stop recommending it, so when I finally got around to it, I rented The Gods Must Be Crazy instead. (Very different.) After getting mocked for my mistake, I never corrected myself. That was the biggest mistake, I think, but holy shit this movie is so epic and amazing.
A lot of the elements that originally gave it a unique style in 2002 do feel a bit dated nowadays. The jumpy editing and high-contrast saturation feel like a student film at times, and the narrative ~~everything is connected~~ shtick is very of its time. These elements would be derivative if it wasn't for the fact that this film is why this style became so normal in action film epics.
The difference between City of God and all of the copycat 2000s action flicks, though, is that this film actually has something to say. It's a large scale production, but that scale is always tied to the narrative and not the pizzazz.
Honestly, my biggest gripe with this film is that I'm unsure whether it works when it's not a big screen. I'm normally very anti-big-screen attitude; if a film works and is truly transcendent, than the world will fade away whether you see it in the theater or on your phone on the subway. Of course, the details are always enhanced when they're on the big screen, but that doesn't mean that's the only way to see a great film, especially since there's more to cinema than just visual aesthetics on their own. I think it's a particularly silly, privileged, and elitist argument whenmost people have to see most movies on a smaller screen. As I watched City of God on my phone on my various commutes today, though, I really couldn't shake the thought that some of the ~~magic~~ is lost outside of a darkened theater. Don't get me wrong - it still roped me in, and I was still on the edge of my subway seat by the end, but the world only half-fades away when you watch it on a smaller screen.
In the long term, I don't think this is as vital to cinema as, say, Apocalypse Now or Schneider's List, and it's definitely not the best film of the 21st century, but it certainly is a remarkable work. It's grand but always engaging. Honestly, although I think it's just short of a masterpiece due to its slightly dated style and overblown scale that can't be contained on a laptop or phone screen, I will probably rewatch City of God sooner and more often than films that are ~~certified~~ masterpieces.