City of Men (2007) dir. Paulo Morelli
Starring: Douglas Silva, Darlan Cunha, Rodrigo dos Santos, Camila Monteiro, Jonathan Haagensen
Following “City of God” and the Brazilian TV series of the same name, Paulo Morelli’s “City of Men”, continues the tales of youth and gang culture in Rio de Janiero. "City of Men" is the less flashier little brother to Mereilles' seminal film, but also a deserving follow up and, in many ways, a more satisfying experience.
Though similar in look and style, Morelli’s film is not a sequel to “City of God” – only the theme, location and visual style join the two films together. “City of Men” takes place in present day and portrays the lives of – Ace and Wallace – two 17 years old youths whose futures are uncertain. Being poor and uneducated, University is out of the question. The threat of gang involvement, which is only one degree of separation away from both boys, looms over them. One of the roots of their uncertainty is their lack of fathers.
Ace and Wallace decide to search to find their real fathers. If you’re poor, it’s difficult to leave the slum, so their search is a matter asking the elder locals. They discover both of them descend from the gangster lifestyle, which seems to breed a circle of crime. Ace discovers his father was killed during a gang hit many years ago, and Wallace tracks down his father, Heraldo, now on probation after a 15-year stint in prison. While Wallace’s relationship with his father grows, his friendship with Ace widens. When the local gang battles become more violent, suddenly Ace and Wallace find themselves as bitter enemies.
Morelli smartly contains his film and doesn’t try to outsprawl Mereilles’ epic. “City of Men” is focused on Ace and Wallace the entire film. The film doesn’t rely on the Scorsese-isms which Mereilles injected into his film. “City of Men” is a slower and more intimate realist experience.
The young men who play the rambunctious but dangerous street kids bring authenticity and warmth to the film. Even though violence and murderous behaviour is present, ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ aren’t so easily definable as in “City of God”. “Midnight” is the leader of one gang – he’s an honourbable young man who desires to organize the kids of his ‘hill.” Fasto, Midnight’s rival, splits from the gang after refusing to kill was one of his men for insubordination. “City of God” gave us true ‘movie-villans’ like L’il Ze – monstrous (but entertaining) caricatures of gang leaders. As a result, “City of Men” feels more authentic.
The first half of the film is the strongest – establishing the relationship of Ace and Wallace to the complexities of the street. But when the sensational gang battles enter the picture, Morelli’s characters take a back seat to the gunplay and the action. It provides a rousing final act, but at the sacrifice of its true heart.
What never wavers is the documentary-like street feel of the film. It’s gorgeous to watch. Morelli and cinematographer Adriano Goldman bathe their frames in sundrenched yellows and golds. A nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Enjoy.
“City of Men” is available on DVD from Alliance Films in Canada and Miramax Films in the U.S.