City of Men (Miramax, R)

film_city-of-men_sm.jpgAt its heart, City of Men is about fatherhood.

 

 

film_city-of-men.jpg 

Just to set the record straight, City of Men is not really a sequel to Fernando Meirelles’ City of God. Instead, it’s a film version of the television show of the same name, which was spun off the film. Make sense? It didn’t to me, either, for I spent the entire time trying to figure out if I was supposed to remember our central heroes, Ace (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha), from City of God. Apparently, they weren’t around for that one, so don’t worry yourself like I did. In fact, I’m not sure that any of the characters from God are present here (it’s been a while, and there sure were a lot of people to follow), so it might be fair to take City of God out of your mind before seeing City of Men. But maybe not. Despite its connection to the hugely popular God, the only reason Men is deserving of U.S. distribution is through this connection, because otherwise, it’s pretty lousy.

Ace and Laranjinha live in an area of low-grade area Rio de Janeiro, which is "run" by Laranjinha’s cousin Midnight (Jonathan Haagensen). By "run," I simply mean that Midnight holds fort at the top of the hill, carrying a gun and keeping an entourage. I presume leadership is determined by some sort of drug trafficking, but this is never made clear in the film. Midnight‘s second-in-command Fasto (Eduardo BR) has committed treason and joined a rival gang to reclaim the hill with the innocent civilians thrown into the middle of the impending gang warfare. At its heart, City of Men is about fatherhood. Ace finds himself becoming a father before he even turns 18. Laranjinha meets his for the first time at his dad’s (Rodrigo dos Santos) parole hearing. Amid the gang conflict, the two boys try to assert their roles with (naturally) lukewarm results.

City of God benefited from the sweeping, dazzling direction of Meirelles (who serves as producer here), both in style and story. In both regards, Men just falls flat, narrow in its perspective and rather dull in its visual landscape. Though swiftly paced, the film also slides past some of the most essential causes and effects, perhaps hoping that fans of the television series could fill in the blanks. On its own, City of Men is a pedestrian crime flick, perhaps satisfying to viewers of the series (of that I’m not sure), and yet when compared with City of God, it ends up being a downright embarrassment. | Joe Bowman

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