In Rio de Janeiro in the 60s, 11-year-old Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) grows up in a favela nicknamed the City of God. Crime is endemic, and he watches its impact on the locals, starting with small-time hoods called The Teenage Trio. Their ‘finest hour’ comes in a brothel robbery which later turns into a bloodbath, courtesy of emerging psychopath Li’l Dice (Douglas Silva).

As Li’l Dice grows up and changes names – to Li’l Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora) – Rocket watches him build a drugs business, remaining loyal to his sole friend, Bené (Phellipe Haagensen). When tragedy strikes the duo, Rocket is helpless to do anything but chart the emerging gang war that engulfs the ghetto of the 1980s.

According to the PR, if Amores Perros is the Mexican Pulp Fiction , this is the Brazilian GoodFellas . It’s a crude but quotable reduction, ignoring the intensity, reality and energy of a modern-day epic. Culling Paulo Lins’ novel from a cast of hundreds to a manageable crowd, directors Meirelles and Lund recruited amateur players with real-life knowledge of the slums (and in Rodrigues’ case, residency in the real City of God). This creates an intimacy amplified through expert use of hand-held camera and close-ups.

Behind-the-scenes manipulation helped: one cast member was told to bully his counterpart for two weeks prior to a fight scene. The look of hate which the victim creates may not be ethical, but it’s unquestionably powerful. Movie and musical styles mesh throughout, as the movie finds an irresistible rhythm to move forward; Rocket’s story is as subtle and effective a framing device as seen anywhere in cinema, and typifies the light touch with which the action unfolds, and there’s even time for in-jokes: one scene shows three characters seen through the back of a truck, adopting a pose identical to the gun-totin’ heroines of Charlie’s Angels .

Meirelles’ next feature was The Constant Gardener , starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, while Lund worked with Spike Lee, Ridley Scott and John Woo on All the Invisible Children , seven short films telling the story of several youths.

Cast:Alexandre Rodrigues (Buscapé), Leandro Firmino (Zé Pequeno), Phellipe Haagensen (Bené), Douglas Silva (Dadinho), Jonathan Haagensen (Cabeleira), Matheus Nachtergaele (Sandro Cenoura), Seu Jorge (Mané Galinha), Jefechander Suplino (Alicate), Alice Braga (Angélica), Roberta Rodrigues (Berenice), Luis Otávio (Buscapé Criança), Darlan Cunha (Filé-com-Fritas), Thiago Martins (Lampião), Gero Camilo (Paraíba – Shorty), Daniel Zettel (Thiago – Tiago), Charles Paraventi (Tio Sam – Uncle Sam), Danielle Ornelas (Vizinha do Paraíba – Shorty’s Neighbor), Micael Borges (Caixa Baixa – Runts), Lúcio Andrey (Bando Zé Pequeno – Li’l Zé’s Gang), Marcello Melo Jr. (Bando Zé Pequeno – Li’l Zé’s Gang), Babu Santana (Grande), Mary Sheila (Mulher do Neguinho), Paulo Lins (Pastor da Igreja), Olivia Araújo (Recepcionista do Motel), Graziella Moretto (Marina Cintra), Tulé Peak (Newspaper Employee (uncredited)), Kikito Junqueira (Otávio), Renato de Souza (Marreco),

Crew
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Braulio Mantovani, from the novel by Paulo Lins

BR / 130 minutes / 2002