A review of “City of Men” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for violence, language and sexuality

Run Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. In Portuguese with English subtitles

 

 

Expectations run high when Brazilian master Fernando Meirelles is attached to a project of any kind. Why wouldn’t they after such masterful triumphs as “City of God” and “The Constant Gardener”?

Unfortunately Meirelles disciple/collaborator Paulo Morelli mines old territory in yet another ode to Rio’s vivid favelas, where crime is the mother’s milk of life.

Best buddies Laranjinha and Acerola (Darlan Cunha and Douglas Silva aka “Wallace” and “Ace”) are on the cusp of their eighteenth birthdays and dealing with impending adulthood the favela way – both searching for their absentee fathers and one playing daddy to a child-wife’s baby boy.

Dreams are shattered or long since forgotten – of a vocation, serious schooling or a top position in one of the local rival gangs who rule the streets with fear and firearms.

Wallace unexpectedly locates his dad (Rodrigo dos Santos) but it’s anything like the salvation he expects it to be when his father drops some loaded wisdom that cracks open a serious rift between childhood friends and threatens the lives of others.

Morelli appears to understand the down and dirty existence of the favela – vibrant with violent, frenzied attitude that speaks to frustrated desire and desperation. The favela shines bright in its drastic contrast to the neighboring beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, sitting jewel-like on its lofty hill (a geographic anomaly) but striking fear into the hearts of Rio’s well-heeled natives.

More often than not “Men” feels like “City of God” light – less ambitious, less intense and more of the same. Well-crafted flashbacks establish that enduring bond of friendship while the stereotypical swagger and gunplay feels forced, tiresome and difficult to comprehend.

Morelli has been well trained, utilizing Meirelles’ bold signature moves, but in the end it’s for naught.