City of Men is an interesting foreign film. As a love affair has developed between me and the country of Brazil, I have learned of the favelas. Through business development books and discussions of the emerging BRIC economy world, I read how the extremely rich of major Brazilian cities travel through and around their cities in helicopters, not just because they can afford it, but to avoid the gangsters that are favela based who could take them hostage for a few thousand or just rob & murder them. It's an odd country where the income inequality makes America look socialist in comparison. There is much talk about the globalization movement making the rest of the world's stands of living rise, but if you look a little closer, are they really?
City of Men felt a bit like a growin' up in the hood movie, but is miles better than any of them. There are wonderful storylines wrapped in the big story arc of two young men turning 18 amongst a power struggle in the neighborhood that is all they have ever known. I really want to see City of God now. Here's something the screenplay did that some movies forget: create likeable protagonists. There are small moments of friendship and love that get you invested in their well being. The gangs are not glamourized nor glorified, and guns are shown as not the way to show you're a man. It was dubbed in English, and I prefer subtitles for movies, but it made a first viewing easier.
I think the film's cinematographer or director purposefully shot the film to look sunburnt. Light floods many scenes, and I found it a great contrast to the darkly lit, street fighting gang scenes. There is no Scarface moment of invincibility for the gangster at the end, just a grim reality in a dark alley. The camera work with the favela landscape was handled well and really conveyed a sense of confinement and enclosure. Things were tight in many shots. Maybe that was the point. Life is lived at extremes in that neighborhood.