City of Men is a “follow-up,” not a sequel, to the Brazilian film, City of God. While the original garnered a lot of attention when released theatrically in the United States, City of Men disappeared without a trace in this country. It’s not surprising.
City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles, told the story of violent drug gangs in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. It was ultimately nominated for four Oscars in 2003, including Best Director, and ended up on many critics top ten list. It spawned a Brazilian television series called City of Men, featuring the same locations, production staff, and some of the same actors. The series ended in 2005 but, much like Sex and the City, was turned into a full length theatrical film in 2007 directed by Meirelles’ collaborator, Paulo Moelli.
While City of God was primarily a crime film and emphasized the criminals, City of Men focuses more on the common citizens of Brazilian favelas (slums.) The drug gangs are still present but are on the periphery, especially in the first half of the movie.
The script by Elena Soarez emphasizes the story of Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha), close friends on the cusp of turning 18. Ace is struggling with his responsibilities as a father while Wallace wants to meet the father he never knew. Their struggles and searches dominate the movie and, while both boys are fine performers with a lot of natural charisma (they grew up acting in the television series), the plot is a bit soapy. In fact, a big reveal about Wallace’s father and his connection to Ace is so obvious earlier in the film it drains it of any emotional impact.
While the filmmakers noted that they wanted to show the impact of the drug gangs on the regular citizens of the favelas, the movie fails in this regard. A few scenes of people ducking into houses and closing roll-down doors over storefronts when the automatic weapon fire starts doesn’t give much of a sense of life in the Rio slums. More time fleshing out a credible and less obvious story between Ace and Wallace would have made things infinitely more interesting.
The gangs do play a more prominent role in the second half of the movie. While this brings one exciting chase as Ace flies around the narrow alleys in his slum, mostly it’s kinda boring. The dark and gritty feel comes from the filming style and not from what is happening onscreen. One gang says “we will kill the rival gang leader” and everyone fires their guns in the air, then the other gang does the same - nothing special in that and the gangs aren’t built up enough for us to even care what happens to them.
If you are a fan of both City of God and the follow-up television series, you might get a little out of this as a rental. It does have good performances by Silva and Cunha. The quest for answers related to fatherhood might strike a chord with some who will overlook the plot contrivances. Most this ist isn't a particularly effective follow-up to such a widely praised film as City of God.
City of Men is a Brazilian movie, so the dialogue is in Portuguese. The disc allows subtitles in French, Spanish, and English, but no dubbed version. I can’t imagine watching a dubbed movie anymore, but if that’s the only way you can watch foreign-language films, you’re out of look.
Although the movie is dark in many scenes, the transfer makes it easy to see what is going on and read the subtitles. It has a very handheld authentic look that shows up well on the DVD and the dialogue, although not in English, is easy to hear.
The only extra on the DVD is a 15 minute featurette called “Building a City of Men.” It’s actually pretty damn good. It will bring anyone not familiar with the original movie or the television series up to speed. It also explains the use of “flashbacks” from the television series and how they were inserted into the movie. The producers and director talk about filming on location in the favelas and what they were going for with this movie. The featurette is also in Portuguese with subtitles.
The movie is not that great and there is only one extra, so it’s hard to strongly recommend this DVD. Again, if you are a big fan of the television series, this will probably be something you would enjoy, but someone coming in cold won’t get much out of it. Those looking for City of God 2 are not going to find it here.