Best buddies Acerola and Laranjinha, about to turn 18, discover things about their missing fathers' pasts which will shatter their solid friendship, in the middle of a war between rival drug gangs from Rio's favelas.
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In the slum in Morro da Sinuca, a couple of days before turning eighteen year-old, Laranjinha tells his best friend and also orphan Acerola that he misses his unknown father. Acerola decides to help his needy friend to find his father and they discover that he is in prison convicted for killing a man during a robbery and near to be released on parole. Meanwhile, Acerola's wife and babysitter Cris is invited to work in São Paulo and she sees the chance to raise money to buy a house of her own; she tells Acerola that he must take care of their son Clayton alone for one year. When the owner of the hill and Laranjinha's cousin Madrugadão is betrayed by his right-hand Nefasto, he is expelled from the slum and Laranjinha and Acerola have also to leave the hill. While Madrugadão plots a plan to invade and recover the hill with the support of the gang of the drug lord from Morro do Careca, Acerola and Laranjinha unravel the past of their fathers. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"City of Men" is a companion piece to Fernando Meirelles' 2002 film "City of God," but it's a much different animal from the earlier film. Both are set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, and both are about young men fashioning lives for themselves out of the only resources available to them. But whereas "City of God" was kinetic, angry and immediate, "City of Men" is more reflective and conventional, and it comes to a much more hopeful conclusion than the earlier film.
"City of Men" is by far the weaker of the two. The carefully crafted screenplay was full of the heavy themes and plot twists of a Shakesperean tragedy, but I found myself missing the unscripted, documentary-like feel of Meirelles' film. "City of Men" is about the absence of fathers, and about two friends who find themselves fighting on opposite sides because of deeds committed by their own dads -- sons literally inheriting the sins of their fathers. But the script is too often heavy handed, and the director, Paulo Morelli, chooses to communicate too much about the lives of these people through blunt exposition. We don't learn about them from what the actors playing them do or how they act, but rather through the lines they read, and we're almost always aware that they're reading lines.
Nevertheless, the acting is strong enough that I found myself caring for the two leads and fairly engrossed in how their stories turned out. Morelli isn't as accomplished a director as Meirelles, but the film is still well directed on its own more modest terms. If I didn't already have "City of God" to compare it to, I might have liked it even more.
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