The Media Diorama’s review published on Letterboxd:
City of God is the brutal realisation of Rio's uncontrollable gang crime. Set in the infamous slum known simply as "City of God", a young man's ambition to become a photographer leads him to the dangerous world of urban warfare. There is so much to take in that one viewing just wouldn't create a clear reflection of the film. It plays out like a typical gangster narrative, two opposing rivalries attempt to own businesses and so bullets rain down upon the streets of Rio. What differentiates this from, let's say Goodfellas, is the sheer brutality and realistic imagery that is conveyed. Murder, rape, drugs...it's all here. But the residents raised in the City of God know no different, it's their way of life. A turf war might happen to one generation, only for the next generation to look up to them and aspire the same desire for power and authority. And so the cycle repeats. It's uncontrollable. The theme of vengeance is prominent as well. How being consumed by revenge can not just lose yourself, but the innocent lives around you. Those who segregate themselves from the violence of gang culture. It's a bold statement but an important one to tell. The favelas and slums of Rio and how the government manage the overgrowing population is what contributes to this lifestyle these people are forced into. Jobs are scarce, the standard of living is low...what else can they resort to? It's a harsh reality, but a reality nonetheless. Plenty of memorable characters, especially their nicknames, that make them human. The natural performances and raw emotion that is portrayed clearly indicates to us that there is a sense of innocence to these gang members. With many of them wanting to remove themselves from the gang culture. Meirelles' direction was frantic and fast paced with a hint of grittiness. That's my only criticism, it's too rapid. Need time to let the raw emotional impact simmer and affect you. I adored the narrative though, embedding character origins within the main plot was refreshing. City of God is one of those rare films that depicts the harsh reality of gang culture.