City of Men delivers emotional punches
By Steven Snyder
Theres no denying the similarities between the new City of Men and 2002s City of God, the Oscar nominated sensation hailed by critic Roger Ebert as one of the best movies ever made. In large part, both films are the brainchild of filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, who became an international star with God and returns with Men as a producer. Now, much as then, the story concerns a little-seen world of lost, violent children living in the slums of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
The key differences between the two dramas are the ages of the central characters and their respective prospects for survival. In the firstthe far more psychologically powerful City of Godthe focus was on a city so depraved and overrun with toddlers and grade school assassins equipped with semiautomatic weapons, it seemed a cityscape all but forgotten. In City of Men, by contrast, we are immersed in a Rio filled with desperate yet hopeful man-children in search of father figures.
Eighteen-year-old Ace (Douglas Silva), is married to the ailing Cris (Camila Monteiro) and doing his best to help raise their young son. But the stresses of fatherhood at a young age and the complete absence of a support network (his father was gunned down while he was still a toddler) take an enormous toll. Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha), otherwise known as Wallace, stands on the other side of the teenage spectrumalmost completely devoid of responsibilities but also haunted by an absentee father.
Alongside these issues of family and accountability is a subplot of gang warfare. While Ace and Wallaces dramas unfold on the streets of the favela, in the surrounding hills we are introduced to Madrugadao (Jonathan Haagensen) and Nefasto (Eduardo BR), leaders of separate warring sects. Madrugadao detests Nefasto, his former lieutenant who he now deems a traitor. While their initial battles seem benign, sporadic gunfire grows more strategic and intense, soon spilling into the city.
The film is grounded by strong performances. In the angry, frightened eyes of Silva and Monteiro, viewers are confronted with the broken souls littering this slum, and City of Men packs an array of punches that City of God didnt attempt to land.
What ultimately limits the reach of City of Men, however, is its obvious effort to one-up God in the warfare department. Morelli fervently cuts between Ace and Wallaces father issues, and Madrugadao and Nefastos battle, but there simply isnt enough time to do justice to both threads. As a result, Wallaces search for his father is trimmed to a sequence that unfolds too smoothly, and their subsequent bonding also occurs a too easily. Aces anxiety escalates and the friendship between Madrugadao and Nefasto implodes bit too abruptly, without the necessary explanation that would to sell the audience on the impending all-out war.
Yanked in and out of the story, viewers may wish to know less about the violence erupting in the hills and more about the heartache unfolding below. Much like its two teen heroes, the film struggles to overcome its past, and in striving to outgun a masterpiece on the scale of its predecessor, City of Men stumbles.