The superheated, rat-a-tat-tat style of Fernando Meirelles’ epic “City of God” (2002) gives way to a lighter but also more emotionally satisfying take on the lives of favela gangstas in companion piece “City of Men,” helmed by longtime Meirelles collaborator Paulo Morelli. Despite its sudsy storyline, this second tour through the punk-infested Rio slums could attract more mature arthouse auds, drawn by character rather than the minutiae of guns ‘n’ drugs, though it’s unlikely to match “God’s” muscular $7.5 million U.S. take. Miramax plans a limited Stateside release in January.
Apart from its setting, “Men” has no plot connections with the 2002 movie, despite the fact that lead actors Douglas Silva and Darlan Cunha both had roles in the former pic. Instead, it’s based on characters and some storylines developed in an intermediary TV series of the same name, and uses largely the same cast. Series ran four seasons (totaling 19 episodes) on Brazil’s TV Globo from 2002-05, attracting 35 million viewers, and was issued Stateside on DVD in fall 2006.
Hub of the movie is the friendship between two favela kids — Acerola (Silva), dubbed “Ace” in the subtitles, and Laranjinha (Cunha), aka “Wallace.” Ace is 18, married to the long-suffering Cris (Camila Monteiro), and has a baby son, Clayton; Wallace is about to turn 18 and still lives with his mother.
Both guys never knew their fathers. Ace’s was gunned down when he was still a tot, and he’s now confronted with the responsibilities of fatherhood himself at a young age. However, Wallace is suddenly keen to track down his dad, partly because he needs his signature to secure an ID card.The way in which the two buddies hunt down Wallace’s dad is handled as breezily as the issue of Ace’s family burdens. Duo manage to identify their man with convenient rapidity and, when he’s confronted in the street by Wallace, Heraldo (Rodrigo dos Santos) simply fesses up and tells him to get lost.
Imprisoned 15 years ago for robbery and manslaughter, Heraldo has skipped parole and is now living low. When he finally agrees to give Wallace face time, the bond between the two is beautifully developed and gradually becomes the pic’s emotional center, with Heraldo clearly seeing in the kid a younger version of himself. Strength of this bond helps make plausible the drama that erupts between Wallace and Ace when a rather-too-neat plot twist later rears its head.
Cunha, whose beatific face is nicely at odds with his troubled background, grabs most of the acting honors and, of the two leads, has the more empathetic role. Ace’s character arc is more fuzzy, centering on his desire to broaden the sexual horizons cut short by his early marriage to Cris, who has gone to Sao Paulo to earn money.
Running parallel to the lead stories, and finally intertwining with them, is a gang war that develops between local tough guy Madrugadao (Jonathan Haagensen) and his onetime lieutenant, Nefasto (Eduardo BR). But even when the guns break out at the halfway point, and rival gangs stalk each other through unlit alleyways, pic (thankfully) never develops the musicvid style of “City of God” in its approach to violence.
Here, the gunplay is almost offhand, and characters don’t get lost amid the bullets. Less happily, there’s little real sense of threat about the bad guys, compared with their counterparts in “God,” diminishing what should be a life-or-death drama.
Especially in the opening reels, Adriano Goldman’s handheld lensing oozes the sweltering heat of the hillside favelas, always positioning them geographically in relation to Rio as a whole. Editing by Daniel Rezende (“God”) is restless but not exhaustingly so, and music by Antonio Pinto (also from “God”) an effective mixture of musique concrete and the more conventional.
Excerpts from the TV series –processed in gaudy color — are liberally scattered throughout as flashbacks.