Review: City of Men
In City of Men, Paulo Morelli brings us back into the Brazilian favelas that Fernando Mareilles and Kátia Lund first introduced in 2002’s stunning City of God. This time the characters and storyline are different, but the themes remain very much the same. Poverty, the effects of gang warfare, and the strength of friendship are all examined. The plot revolves around two lifelong friends, Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha), who are bonded together by their lack of fathers and the violence that surrounds them. In order to survive in Rio’s dangerous Dead End Hill District, the boys become like brothers, confiding in one another and constantly watching each other’s backs. As Ace and Wallace’s18th birthdays near, their neighborhood becomes engulfed in a bloody gang war. Amidst the firefights, mounting suspicions, and Wallace’s quest to discover the truth about his father, revelations come out that threaten to tear their friendship apart.
The relationship between Ace and Wallace is the highlight of City of Men. Both characters are remarkably likable and genuine. Every embrace, pat on the back, and smile shared between the two feels like an authentic interaction between childhood friends. There is a scene in City Of Men with Ace and Wallace smiling and hugging each other because their 18th birthday is approaching. The sentiment is obvious: the two are happy to have reached maturity, and to have been able to do so with each other. When the two are angry or disappointed with each other, such as when Ace joins the gang led by Midnight (Jonathan Haagenson), the emotions feel equally as real. The supporting cast turns in excellent performances as well. Naima Silva is convincing as Wallace’s love interest and Camila Monteiro turns in a fine performance as the girlfriend with whom Ace had a child with out of wedlock.
Paulo Morelli depicts a Rio full of disparity. Resplendent tides of aqua crash into a vast, coastline stretching for miles and miles, the sun constantly beams overhead, and high-rise apartments dot the oceanfront property. But despite the tropical beauty of Rio and the affluence of the upper class, the lower class remains in abject poverty: Most of the population lives in squalid apartments and shanties, the soccer team used to keep youths off the street is under funded, gangs do battle for whatever little amount of land that they can lay claim to, and theft is a common occurrence. Morelli does an effective job placing the viewer right in the middle of the action. The use of a handheld camera puts the audience up close and personal with the overcrowded and dangerous world that Ace and Wallace inhabit. We get to feel the confinement and sense of energy that flows through the Favela.
Hopefully City Of Men is not eclipsed by the success of its spiritual predecessor. The film deserves to be seen and appreciated in its own right. Ultimately human at its core, City of Men is a powerful tale of friendship and survival in the middle of rampant gang violence and destitution.