Five years ago Total Film declared City Of God to be “the Brazilian GoodFellas.” (What do you mean, you don’t remember? It was on the posters!) Does City Of Men, the big-screen spin-off from the hit TV series Fernando Meirelles’ drama spawned, deserve a similar accolade? Yes it does – ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Brazilian Mean Streets!
It sounds facetious, but it really isn’t. If God had the sprawling scope, propulsive energy and technical virtuosity of Scorsese’s 1990 classic, Men has its 1973 predecessor’s raw edginess and youthful exuberance. If God weaved a panoply of plot threads into a vivid, visceral tapestry, Men uses a single narrative to illuminate a larger tragedy: namely, the cheapness of human life in Rio de Janeiro’s crime-ridden favelas and the unlikelihood of either of its young heroes making it to manhood. And if God had one Henry Hill-style lead, Men has two – Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha), childhood pals whose fraternal bond, like Charlie and Johnny Boy’s, faces the sternest of tests.
Fans of the TV series have seen Silva and Cunha grow before their eyes, giving this final outing an emotional heft that might be lost on the unacquainted. But City Of Men also works on its own terms, placing its protagonists’ parallel quandaries – Ace’s quest to find his absent dad and Wallace’s fears about becoming one himself – against the backdrop of a simmering gang war between local mobster Midnight (Jonathan Haagensen) and his former lieutenant Nefasto (Eduardo ‘BR’ Piranha) that threatens to ensure the Dead End Hill district they all share lives up to its name.
It’s this, plus a slightly convenient revelation, that pits the two friends against each other in the film’s more action-oriented second half. It’s what goes before, however, that really justifies a fine follow-up that – while never quite being City Of God’s equal – certainly earns the right to be mentioned in the same breath.
The City Of God cycle comes full circle with a moving companion piece that is both a damning indictment of Rio's slums and a compelling coming-of-age story. Soaked in sun and teeming with life, if slightly short on its forerunner's ambition.