City of God
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
Rocket struggles to stay clean, but it is impossible to avoid encounters with the temperamental gang members—they are his neighbors and his friends. Fortunately, Rocket has higher ambitions. He wants to be a photographer, which puts him in good stead: the egotistical gang leaders are eager to get their defiant faces in the paper while the papers want exciting material. Rocket thus walks a thin line between criminal corruption and artist integrity. He wants to tell the truth, but he risks his life in doing so.
Rocket's story parallels that of a trigger-happy drug dealer called Li'l Ze (Firmino da Hora), whose growth from an angry child to a bloodthirsty warlord is the film's most troubling thread. There is a clear moral: you can't play with the devil without being burned.
Bob Nusser (Preview) gives
But it is not the responsibility of the artist to provide answers. Rather, an artist should offer us a vision that is honest enough to let us draw our own conclusions. Many Christians seem to think that the truth needs to be inserted into a good story—Jesus as product placement. But if an artist has crafted his work with excellence, the truth will be evident for those with eyes to see —good storytelling necessarily reflects the truth. These stories, as ugly as they are, are honest, and they need to be told and heard.
Meirelles is not glorifying these gun-toting kids. He is instead trying to wake the world up to these forgotten and needy children. Further, he used the film as an opportunity to offer these kids some training in filmmaking, encouraging talents which could help them escape their insufferable conditions. (The film, however, is certainly not for younger viewers or those with weak stomachs.)
Mike Hertenstein (Cornerstone) writes, "I found it much less excessive, at least in terms of onscreen gore, than I expected. Indeed, one senses a certain discretion on the part of the director, given the subject matter. An incredible accomplishment … a picture of this crazy world which is the whole world for those struggling to survive within it."
J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) calls it "a bravura piece of filmmaking that takes the gangster movie and brings it powerfully into the 21st century. I can't think of a gangster movie since
Mainstream critics who saw the film at festivals started raving about the film before its widespread theatrical run began. Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) says, "
Elsewhere, Steve Parish (The Film Forum) praises