Vivid widescreen lensing and a brassy attitude propel crime saga “The Man of the Year” past a cluttered, anachronistic feel. Saga of a regular guy who becomes a hero for killing undesirables is adapted from a decorated 1996 tome by Patricia Melo (published as “The Killer” in the U.K.), and retains that violent, Tarantino-ish absurdity popular in actioners of the period. Still, pulled along by the interest in flamboyant Brazilian urban tales a la “City of God,” item could click in arthouse situations, with vigorous ancillary assured.
Yearning only to be “a normal man,” young Maiquel (Murilo Benicio) finds himself a local folk hero after impulsively killing a much-loathed hood for making fun of his newly dyed blonde hair (he was on the losing end of a soccer bet). Inheriting the dead guy’s 15-year-old g.f. Erica (Natalia Lage) but marrying long-time squeeze Cledir (Claudia Abreu) anyway, Maiquel finds his life further complicated when local dentist Carvalho (Jorge Doria) opens a career path by agreeing to cure his toothache if Maiquel will kill the man who raped his daughter.
Events take an even more surreal turn when Erica persuades Maiquel to kill Cledir, then rewards him by finding religion and hanging out in church. (Maiquel’s response is to beat up her priest.) At the same time, his newfound celebrity and subsequent success in the “security” business prompts a troika of shady types, led by Carvalho, who advise Maiquel on career choices, to award him their “man of the year” honors.
“Each of us chooses his own fate,” Maiquel concludes, but pic’s biggest challenge to auds unfamiliar with literary source is that there are so many fates from which to choose: Is pic a cautionary underworld saga a la “Little Caesar,” a swaggering tonal exercise in the “Pulp Fiction” mold or a dark comedy along the lines of “The Trouble With Harry”? Novelistic approach adds texture, but cume feel is of unnecessary complexity. More satisfying approach might have been to cut away the narrative underbrush to expose a central metaphor of the story — that an average Joe yearning for normalcy can be seduced into, killing society’s undesirables.
Benicio plays the passive-aggressive Maiquel with an appealing, hangdog sincerity that is part Ben Affleck, part Bob Geldof. Large supporting cast is along for the ride; that’s “Bye Bye Brazil” star Jose Wilker looking dapper as a member of Maiquel’s guiding “social club.”
Tech credits are snazzy, with Fonseca — working from a script by his celebrated writer father Rubem (“High Art,” “Bufo & Spallanzani”) — displaying a sure hand in his first full-length feature following an episode in the 1998 portmanteau film “Betrayal.” Dado Villa-Lobos’ sinewy score adds a stylish aural pulse to proceedings.