Several years ago, American audiences simultaneously were repulsed at the raw urgent violence while marveling at the sheer film-making artistry of the brilliant crime epic, “City of God.” Fast forward to present day and in the latest film, “City of Men, the filmmakers return to inform audiences know that the saga continues.
Using many of the principle actors from “God,” in “Men” the focus shifts from several decades of crime to the odyssey of two friends searching for their missing fathers. Young Acerola (Douglas Silva) is a young father battling to accept his parental responsibility. Working as a security job for little money, Acerola and his girlfriend, Cris (Camila Monteiro) live together raising their young son, Clayton. When not working or spending time with his family, he hangs out with his best friend, Laranjinha, who he known since childhood. The two spend most of their time trying to avoid the random gang violence and trying to figure out ways to find the fathers that neither has ever known.
But all is not well on the other side of paradise. While both young man consider the fates of their father’s past and their futures, war is brewing on the hill. Local thug kingpin, Madrugadão (Jonathan Haagensen), Laranjinha’s cousin, has a traitor in his crew. His underboss, Nefasto (Eduardo BR), wants to be the man and begins plotting to take him down. Loyalties are challenged and the very residents choose sides in the impending conflict. Caught in the middle of battle is the girlfriend of Laranjinha, Camila (Naima Silva) who beautiful locks are cut in revenge against her turncoat brother. Soon, Madrugadão are beaten and chased from their hill, seeking refuge on the other side of town with another local gangster, preparing to take back their hill.
In the backdrop of this chaos, both Acerola and Laranjinha are getting closer to discovering the identity of their fathers. In their interactions you never get a sense that they are having issues with fatherhood, each seeks closure for the missing voids in their lives. One of the characters find his father and discovers an ugly truth that shatters their relationship, much as it destroyed their father’s relationships some years earlier. Soon, each friend finds their allegiences challenged and each is forced to choose sides not only in their relationship, but also in the violent struggle going on in their neighborhood. Will these childhood friends reconcile their differences to give Acerola’s young son something that he never had – his father’s love?
Using many of the same actors from the award-winning film, “City of God,” that film’s director, Fernando Meirelles returns as the producer for “Men.” While this story isn’t as layered as “God” was “Men” not only returns to familiar scenery but maintains the sense of urgency from the earlier film. Silva gives a wonderful nuanced performance 180 degrees from the heartless, cold killer, ‘Lil Ze in “God.” He plays Acerola as young manchild who just can’t accept that he has a child to raise before his 18th birthday. Why should he have have to grow up and accept responsibility when he can chase girls and hang at the beach all day with Laranjinha?
Much like “God,” the violence isn’t as extreme but the sense of unpredictability is everywhere and constant in “Men.” Lacking the grand scale and detailed storytelling of the earlier Brazilian crime story, “City of Men” is a very capable follow-up effort. As an individual piece of work this film’s paternal message is touching and sorely missing in films with people of color. Their is no ending or grand solution, just a group of desperate, directionless young boys fighting for territory that they can never own but seek to control.
The bloody finale, played out among homes in the hills of the City of God, leaves film audiences with a feeling akin to their landmark first film that the only constant is change and maybe if many of the young gang members had strong fathers to provide direction maybe this group of out of control boys could make the transition to productive loving men.