City of Men

Director: Paulo Morelli

It’s said that the sins of the father eventually go to his son but it’s a trickier proposition when a person either doesn’t know who his own father is or has vague memories of a father who was killed when he was young and now must face his own identity as a father to his baby boy. In director Paulo Morelli’s cinematic follow-up to Fernando Meirelles’s masterpiece City of God, the two main characters find themselves in exactly these situations as they turn eighteen. After losing his son at a young age, Ace (Douglas Silva) realizes he must try and make amends to ensure that his son Clayton doesn’t grow up to repeat his mistakes coming-of-age without male guidance but barely able to take care of himself or his equally young wife, Ace struggles with responsibility and priority when he’s enlisted by his best friend Wallace (Darlan Cunha) to track down the father he’s never met in order to secure his identity and get a needed signature on his eighteen year old identification card.

Like City of God, City of Men, which is based on the critically acclaimed Brazilian television series recently released in the states on both DVD and through the Sundance Channel, is set in the low class slums of Rio de Janeiro although while God was set in the past, Men’s action takes place today as the children of their community hill align themselves with a local gang leader and are willing to take up arms and risk their lives to fight local gangs over territory. Although one doesn’t necessarily have to see City of God in order to appreciate its far more linear follow-up with an emphasis on sentimentality and a cleaner narrative than its flashier, edgier, father God, it’s fascinating to view it with the first grand scale work fresh in one's mind.

Although Men feels like an ideal companion piece to the first film, however despite some similarities in style and crew behind and in front of the camera, Men is a more audience friendly picture that will be able to attract those who may have run for the exits from the brutality and horror of the first film. Although, Men comes with a few contrivances and one predictable twist near the end, which reminded me that it was missing the impact of the first picture which, in its much louder way offered up a truer sense of the beating heart of Rio and one less carefully and deliberately presented to filmgoers as this more accessible work. However, this being said, it’s a great, great film in its own right and one that feels, similar to God years earlier, like the perfect antidote to the mindless and numb Hollywood manufactured orgies of violence and gore by never letting us forget that we’re not looking at just bored teens who turn to violence to titillate or shock, but teens who grew up with absolutely nothing and must find a way to fight to survive, to make tough choices and more importantly, discover how to take the lessons or lack thereof they learned from their fathers and apply them to the next generation.