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City of Men - arthouse and international DVD / foreign language DVD / drama DVD review
CITY OF MEN Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Actors: Douglas Silva, Darlan Cunha, Jonathan Haagensen, Rodrigo Dos Santos, Camila Monteiro
Director: Paulo Morelli   Studio: Miramax
DVD release: 01 July 2008   Runtime: 106 minutes (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio Tracks (Portugese), Subtitles (English, French, Spanish), Building a City of Men, Sneak peeks

City of Men is the crime-drama sequel to the universally praised 2005 film City of God, a film that I have, unfortunately, not yet seen. Like many sequels, I get a strong sense from this one that its makers assumed that the audience had seen the first film (and thus already knew the backstory of some of the key characters). However, City of Men can stand on its own as a fine, poignant film, and it does make me want to view its acclaimed predecessor.

The story focuses on the lifelong friendship between two young men growing up in the violent slums of Rio de Janeiro: Ace (Douglas Silva), who is married and is trying to support his young son, and Wallace (Darlan Cunha), who is searching for his father (he wants to be one of the few young men in his neighborhood to NOT have "father unknown" on his identification papers). The lives of these two young men are thrown into jeopardy when they are caught in the crossfire of a deadly turf war - Ace's in particular, as he makes potentially deadly mistake of seeing the wrong person at the wrong time. Furthermore, their friendship is put to the test when Wallace's quest for his father leads to an unexpected, tragic revelation.

Perhaps the one major flaw in City of Men is its plot. Whereas City of God was praised for its wild unpredictability, City of Men follows a rather conventional plot familiar to fans of crime dramas and message films. In particular, the major revelation, which will lead to Ace pointing a gun at Wallace, seems contrived and predictable.

But a conventional plot should not detract too much from what is admirable about the film. For one, it is shot in a lush, rich over-saturation of color that almost makes the audience feel they are on these streets. In the day, the streets are bathed in a yellow glow. The nights are dark black, with an almost gold tint. The sweat on the characters is shown in close-up: theirs is a hot, stifling, oppressive world, and you can feel the heat.

The acting is superb without drawing attention to itself. Silva and Cunha are authentic and natural. It is easy to believe that these two young men did indeed grow up as lifelong friends on these streets. They both have a quiet dignity about them and a genuine desire to find a better life for themselves and their loved ones. The viewer caring very much what happens to them adds to the tension of the final scenes set during a turf war. Furthermore, Rodrigo Dos Santos, who plays a key role later in the film, is moving in the way he plays a character full of guilt and resignation yet still trying to do at least one thing right in his life.

City of Men is not a great film; again, it has a rather conventional plot and assumes its audience has seen its predecessor (and it is probably beneficial to see City of God first). However, it is a good film that is beautiful to look at and offers compelling characters to care about.

A short but well-done behind-the-scenes piece called Building a City of Men.
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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