City Of Men
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (7th August 2008).
The Film

I try to travel to two new countries every year. Looking at "City of Men", I learned that Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is a breathtakingly beautiful place, but it has also fallen to more or less the bottom of my to-visit list, perhaps just above Iraq and Darfur. As portrayed in this film, it is a place of misery and squalor, a prime example of humanity moving in to a paradise and promptly trashing it. That isn't the story of the flm however; "City of Men" is a more personal tale than that.

Wallace (Darlan Cunha) and Ace (Douglas Silva) are best friends living in the gorgeous but impoverished hills of Rio de Janeiro. The two boys are both just shy of their eighteenth birthdays, and as they teeter on the verge of manhood, their futures are uncertain and difficult. Both of them have big problems relating to fatherhood: Wallace has no idea who his father is, and Ace - whose father was murdered - is himself a father, and became one much too young. Ace impregnated his girlfriend Cris (Camila Monteiro) on the same night they lost their virginity, and has been burdened with raising their young son ever since. If nothing else, this situation has given Ace some empathy for the emptiness that the fatherless Wallace feels. The two boys engage in some detective work to find Wallace's father, even as Ace's girl leaves town for a job, putting their son in the reluctant Ace's care.

Meanwhile the boys have even bigger problems. A gangster named Midnight is king of Dead End Hill, a mountain by the sea with an awe-inspiring view of the surrounding ocean and coastal mountains. When Midnight decides to go for a swim on a sweltering hot day, his lieutenants try to talk him out of it; they would have to pass through enemy territory to get to the beach. The gang goes swimming and sparks off a conflict that no one can remain neutral in. Midnight is Wallace's cousin, Wallace's girl Camila (Naima Silva) is related to a traitor within Midnight's organization, and there is even history between Ace's dead father and Wallace's estranged father...history that Midnight is well aware of and exploits to drive the boys apart. As gunfire and murder erupt, Wallace and Ace cannot help but to be drawn in to a conflict that these two good-natured boys want no part of.

This is a top-tier drama about the effects of gang warfare on the people living in the periphery, tightly scripted and densely plotted. Every one of the performances is sterling, and every one of the characters is fully realized. When tragedy strikes (and it does, many times), there is no reason to have used manipulative music to get the point across: the situations are heartbreaking enough without Hollywood style contrivances. The film transcends the tired gangster drama genre and becomes a solid story of two boys doing their best to escape their miserable circumstances, while giving Ace's son a better life than Ace and Wallace had.

After watching the DVD, I was surprised to learn that the film is a sequel to the film "City of God", and that a 19-episode television series was made between the films. Not having seen any of this prior material, I still found the feature to be quite satisfying as a stand-alone piece of work.

Video

Aspect ratio is 1.85:1, anamorphic. Cinematography by Adriano Goldman is noteworthy, finding equal beauty in the squalor of the favela and in the natural landscape. The film is tinted with a blue-green cast that works in context. The transfer is clean with no apparent artifacts. Running time is 1:46:25, divided into 14 scenes.

Audio

"City of Men" is presented in the original Brazilian Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Audio is very good, with a dense but never exaggerated soundscape. The gunfire in the gang war scenes, for example, avoids the huge canon sounds that many sound designers go for. The music by Antoni Pinto is an interesting mix of Latin vibraphone and guitar blended with electronic elements, and occasional big percussion. The dynamic range in this film may be a little too broad, however; I found myself turning things up and down a bit.

Extras

Buena Vista has included a featurette and a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

"Building a City of Men" runs for 15 minutes 13 seconds and is your basic production featurette. Interviews with cast and crew, plus film clips and behind the scenes footage.

Rounding out the extras are bonus trailers for:

- "The Nightmare Before Christmas" which runs for 2 minutes 1 second.
- "Smart People" which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Lost: The Complete Fourth Season" which runs for 1 minute 5 seconds.
- "Blindness" which runs for 1 minute 34 seconds.
- "Step Up 2 The Streets" which runs for 2 minutes 11 seconds.
- "Miramax Films" spot which runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: B Extras: C- Overall: B+

 


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