Volume 20, Number 43 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN - MARCH 7 -- 13, 2008

Film

City of Men
Directed by Paulo Morelli
Angelika Film Center
18 W. Houston St. at Mercer
(212-995-2000, angelikafilmcenter.com)

Courtesy Miramax Pictures

‘City of Men’ delivers emotional punches

By Steven Snyder

There’s no denying the similarities between the new “City of Men” and 2002’s “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 first—the far more psychologically powerful “City of God”—the 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 spectrum—almost 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 Wallace’s 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” didn’t 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 Wallace’s father issues, and Madrugadao and Nefasto’s battle, but there simply isn’t enough time to do justice to both threads. As a result, Wallace’s search for his father is trimmed to a sequence that unfolds too smoothly, and their subsequent bonding also occurs a too easily. Ace’s 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.



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