City of God (2002 film)

City of God (2002 film)
City of God

Original poster
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Kátia Lund (co-director)
Produced by Andrea Barata Ribeiro
Mauricio Andrade Ramos
Elisa Tolomelli
Walter Salles
Screenplay by Bráulio Mantovani
Based on City of God by
Paulo Lins
Starring Alexandre Rodrigues
Alice Braga
Leandro Firmino
Phellipe Haagensen
Douglas Silva
Jonathan Haagensen
Matheus Nachtergaele
Seu Jorge
Roberta Rodrigues
Graziella Moretto
Music by Ed Cortês
Antonio Pinto
Cinematography César Charlone
Editing by Daniel Rezende
Studio O2 Filmes
Globo Filmes
Wild Bunch
Distributed by Miramax Films (US)
Mars Distribution (France)
Buena Vista International
Release date(s) 18 May 2002 (2002-05-18) (Cannes)
30 August 2002 (2002-08-30) (Brazil)
12 March 2003 (2003-03-12) (France)
Running time 130 minutes
135 minutes (TIFF)
Country Brazil
Language Portuguese
Budget R$8.5 million
Box office $30,641,770

City of God (Portuguese: Cidade de Deus) is a 2002 Brazilian crime drama film directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Kátia Lund, released in its home country in 2002 and worldwide in 2003. All the characters existed in reality, and the story is based on real events. It was adapted by Bráulio Mantovani from the 1997 novel of the same name written by Paulo Lins. It depicts the growth of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro, between the end of the '60s and the beginning of the '80s, with the closure of the film depicting the war between the drug dealer Li'l Zé and criminal Knockout Ned. The tagline is "If you run, the beast catches; if you stay, the beast eats", (a proverb analogous to the English "Damned if you do, damned if you don't").

The cast includes Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Jonathan Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Alice Braga and Seu Jorge. Most of the actors were, in fact, residents of favelas such as Vidigal and the Cidade de Deus itself.

The film received four Academy Award nominations in 2004: Best Cinematography (César Charlone), Best Directing (Meirelles), Best Editing (Daniel Rezende) and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) (Mantovani). Before that, in 2003 it had been chosen to be Brazil's runner for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it was not nominated to be one of the five finalists.

Meirelles and Lund went on to create the City of Men TV series and film City of Men, which share some of the actors (notably leads Douglas Silva and Darlan Cunha) and their setting with City of God.



Chickens are being prepared for a meal when a chicken escapes and an armed gang chases after it. The chicken comes to a stop between the gang and a young man named Rocket (Buscapé), who believes that the gang wants to kill him. In a creative move, the "Matrix" shot stops time and circles Rocket. Suddenly he's a young boy playing soccer on a dirt field. It's the 60s and this is how City of God came to be.

In the context of a military dictatorship, three impoverished thieves known as the "Tender Trio" – Shaggy, Clipper, and Goose – rob and loot business owners; Goose is Rocket's brother. In Robin Hood fashion, they split part of the loot with the citizens of a favela called the City of God (Cidade de Deus), and are protected by them in return. Several younger boys idolise the trio and follow them around. One such hanger-on, known as Li'l Dice (Dadinho), convinces them to hold up a motel and rob its occupants. The gang agree but, resolving not to kill anyone, tell Li'l Dice that he is too young to accompany them and must serve as lookout. They give him a gun and tell him to fire a warning shot if the police arrive. Unsatisfied with this, Li'l Dice fires a warning shot mid-robbery and proceeds to gun down all the inhabitants of the motel once the gang have run off. The massacre brings on the attention of the police, forcing the Tender Trio to leave the slum. Clipper joins the church, and Shaggy is shot by the police while trying to escape with his girlfriend. Goose is shot by Li'l Dice after attempting to rob the younger boy and his friend Benny (Bené), who have both been hiding out and committing crimes on their own since the motel incident.

The timeline jumps forward into the 70's. Rocket has become a part of the "Groovies", a group of young hippies who enjoy smoking marijuana. He develops an interest in photography by taking pictures of his friends, especially one girl that he is infatuated with, but his attempts to get close to her are ruined by a group of younger troublemakers known as "The Runts" (Caixa Baixa, "Low Gang"). Li'l Dice now calls himself "Li'l Zé" ("Zé Pequeno"), and along with his childhood friend Benny has established a drug empire by eliminating all of the competition, except for one dealer named Carrot, who is a friend of Benny's.

A relative peace has come over the City of God under the reign of Li'l Zé, who avoids the police's attention by having his henchmen kill one of the Runts, who had been committing petty crimes in the area. Zé plans to kill his last rival, Carrot, but is stopped by Benny. Eventually, along with the girl that he has wooed away from Rocket, Benny decides to leave the criminal life behind to live on a farm and throws a farewell party. Zé, unable to find a girl who will dance with him at the party, vents his sexual frustration by humiliating a peace-loving man named Knockout Ned. Later, Benny is gunned down by a former drug dealer, Neguinho, who was aiming for Zé. As Benny was the only man holding Li'l Zé back from taking over Carrot's business, his death leaves Zé in danger and Carrot living in fear.

Following Benny's death, Zé rapes Ned's girlfriend, then kills his uncle and younger brother. Ned, looking for revenge, sides with Carrot. After Ned kills one of Li'l Zé's men and wounds Zé himself, a war breaks out between the two rival factions that engulfs the City of God which marks the beginning of the 80's. Both sides enlist more and more "soldiers", with Zé providing weapons for the Runts on the condition that they will fight for him. Jealous of Ned's notoriety in the newspapers, Zé has Rocket take photos of him and his gang. Unknown to Rocket, a female reporter named Marina decides to publish the developed prints in the daily paper. Rocket then fears for his life, mistakenly believing that Zé will want to kill him, although Zé is actually very pleased with his increased notoriety. After throwing a fit, Rocket reluctantly agrees to keep working with the newspaper and ends up sleeping with Marina.

The story has come around full circle to the start of the film. Confronted by the gang, Rocket is surprised that Zé is asking him to take a picture of the gang. Just as Rocket prepares to take the photograph, however, Carrot arrives and a gunfight ensues between the two gangs, and later the police. Ned is killed by a boy who has infiltrated his gang to avenge his father, a security guard who was killed by Ned in an earlier scene during a bank robbery. Li'l Zé and Carrot are arrested and Carrot is taken away to be paraded in front of the press. Zé is shaken down for money, humiliated, and finally released, all while being secretly photographed by Rocket. After the police officers leave, the Runts surround Zé and murder him in retribution for having killed one of their friends. Rocket takes pictures of the entire scene as well as Zé's dead body and goes back to the newspaper.

Rocket is seen in the newspaper office looking at all of his photographs through a magnifying glass, and deciding whether or not to put the pictures of the crooked police officers in the newspaper, or the picture of Zé's dead body. The photos of the cops would make him famous but put him in danger, while the photos of Li'l Zé would guarantee him a job at the paper. He decides to take the safe route, and the newspaper runs his picture of Zé's bullet-ridden corpse.

The story ends with the Runts walking around the City of God, making a hit list of the dealers they plan to kill in order to take over the drug business. They mention that a Comando Vermelho ("Red Command") is coming.


Many characters are known only by nicknames. The literal translation of these nicknames is given next to their original Portuguese name; the names given in English subtitles are sometimes different.

Name Actor(s) Name in English subtitles Description
Buscapé ("Firecracker") Alexandre Rodrigues (adult)
Luis Otávio (child)
Rocket The main narrator and protagonist. A quiet, honest boy who dreams of becoming a photographer, and the only character who seems to keep from being dragged down into corruption and murder during the gang wars.
Zé Pequeno ("Little Joe")
childhood: Dadinho ("Little dice")
Leandro Firmino da Hora (adult)
Douglas Silva (child)
Li'l Zé
Li'l Dice
An ultra-violent, sociopathic drug dealer who takes sadistic pleasure in killing his rivals. When his only friend, Benny, is struck by fate, it drives him over the edge. "Dado" is a common nickname for Eduardo, and "inho" a diminutive suffix; "dado" also means "dice". The fact that he becomes Zé Pequeno as an adult may suggest that his Christian name is José Eduardo – is a nickname for José, while pequeno means "little". However, since the name was chosen in a religious ceremony, it may also be unrelated to the drugdealer's actual name.
Bené ("Benny") Phellipe Haagensen (adult)
Michel de Souza (child)
Benny Zé's longtime partner in crime, he is a friendly City of God drug dealer who fancies himself a sort of Robin Hood, and wants to eventually lead an honest life.
Sandro, nicknamed Cenoura ("Carrot") Matheus Nachtergaele Carrot A smaller-scale drug dealer who is friendly with Benny but is constantly threatened by Zé.
Mané Galinha ("Chicken Manny") Seu Jorge Knockout Ned A handsome, charismatic ladies' man. Zé rapes his girlfriend and then proceeds to massacre several members of Ned's family. Ned joins forces with Carrot to retaliate against Zé. His name was changed for the English subtitles because in English, "chicken" is a term for a coward (in Brazil it denotes popularity among women). "Mané" is a nickname for Manuel.
Cabeleira ("Long Hair") Jonathan Haagensen Shaggy Leader of the Tenderness Trio ("Trio Ternura"), a group of thieves who share their profit with the population of the City of God.
Marreco ("Garganey") Renato de Souza Goose One of the Tenderness Trio, and Rocket's brother.
Alicate ("Pliers") Jefechander Suplino Clipper One of the Tenderness Trio. Later gives up crime and joins the church.
Barbantinho ("Stringy") Edson Oliveira (adult)
Emerson Gomes (child)
Stringy Childhood friend of Rocket.
Angélica Alice Braga Angélica An old friend and love interest of Rocket, and later Benny's girlfriend, who motivates him to abandon the criminal life.
Tiago Daniel Zettel Tiago Angélica's redheaded boyfriend, who later becomes Li'l Zé's associate and a drug addict.
Filé com Fritas ("Steak with Fries") Darlan Cunha Steak with Fries A young drug addict hired by Zé's gang.
Charles, nicknamed Tio Sam ("Uncle Sam") Charles Paraventi Charles / Uncle Sam A weapons dealer.
Marina Cintra Graziella Moretto Marina Cintra A journalist for Jornal do Brasil, who hires Rocket as a photographer. Rocket has his first sexual experience with her.
Touro ("Bull") Luiz Carlos Ribeiro Seixas Touro An honest police officer.
Cabeção ("Big Head") Maurício Marques Melonhead A corrupt police officer.
Lampião ("Lantern") Thiago Martins Lampião Child leader of the Runts gang
Marcos Junqueira Otávio Marcos Junqueira Child leader of the Runts gang


On the bonus DVD, it is revealed that the only professional actor with years of filming experience was Matheus Nachtergaele, who played the supporting role of Carrot.[1] Most of the remaining cast were from real-life favelas, and in some cases, even the real-life City of God favela itself. From initially about 2000, about a hundred children and youths were hand-picked and placed into an "actors' workshop" for several months.[1] In contrast to more traditional methods (e.g. studying theatre and rehearsing), it focused on simulating authentic street war scenes, such as a hold-up, a scuffle, a shoot-out etc. A lot came from improvisation, as it was thought better to create an authentic, gritty atmosphere. This way, the inexperienced cast soon learned to move and act naturally.[1]

Prior to City of God, Lund and Meirelles filmed the short film Golden Gate as a sort of test run.[1] Only after then was the casting for City of God finalized[citation needed].

Appropriately, the film ends eavesdropping on the machinations of the "Runts" as they assemble their death list. The real gang "Caixa Baixa" (Low Gang) is rumored to have composed such a list. After filming, the crew could not leave the cast to return to their old lives in the favelas. Help groups were set up to help those involved in the production to build more promising futures[citation needed].


Public acclaim

The film was screened out of competition at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.[2] In Brazil, City of God garnered the largest audience for a domestic film in 2002, with over 3.1 million tickets sold, and a gross of 18.6 million reais ($10.3 million).[3] The film also grossed over 7 million US$ in the U.S. and over 30 million worldwide.[4]

Critical acclaim

City of God received impressive positive acclaim from major publications in the United States, gathering 92% of favourable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.[5] Empire chose it as the 177th best film of all time in 2008,[6] and TIME chose it as one of the 100 greatest films of all time.[7] Critic Roger Ebert gave the film a four-star review, writing "'City of God' churns with furious energy as it plunges into the story of the slum gangs of Rio de Janeiro. Breathtaking and terrifying, urgently involved with its characters, it announces a new director of great gifts and passions: Fernando Meirelles. Remember the name."[8]

City of God was ranked third in Film4's "50 Films to See Before You Die", and ranked No.7 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[9] It was also ranked No.6 on The Guardian's list of "the 25 Best Action Movies Ever".[10]

Top ten lists

The film appeared on several American critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2003.[11]

  • 2nd- Chicago Sun Times (Roger Ebert)
  • 2nd – Charlotte Observer (Lawrence Toppman)
  • 2nd – Chicago Tribune (Marc Caro)
  • 4th – New York Post (Jonathan Foreman)
  • 4th – Time Magazine (Richard Corliss)
  • 5th – Portland Oregonian (Shawn Levy)
  • 7th – Chicago Tribune (Michael Wilmington)
  • 10th – Hollywood Reporter (Michael Rechtshaffen)
  • 10th – New York Post (Megan Lehmann)
  • 10th – New York Times (Stephen Holden)

Awards and nominations

According to the Internet Movie Database,[12] City of God won fifty-five awards and received another twenty-nine nominations. Among those:

Academy Awards
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
  • Nominated: Best Foreign Language Film
BAFTA Film Awards
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film
Golden Globe Awards
Independent Spirit Awards
  • Nominated: Best Foreign Language Film
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film
New York Film Critics Circle Awards
Satellite Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film
Toronto International Film Festival
  • Won: Visions Award – Special Citation


The score to the film composed by Antonio Pinto and Ed Córtes. It was followed by two remix albums. Songs from the film:

  • "Alvorada" (Cartola / Carlos Cachaça / Herminio B. Carvalho) - Cartola
  • "Azul Da Cor Do Mar" (Tim Maia) - Tim Maia
  • "Dance Across the Floor" (Harry Wayne Casey / Ronald Finch) - Jimmy Bo Horne
  • "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" (James Brown / Bobby Byrd / Ronald R. Lenhoff) - James Brown
  • "Hold Back the Water" (Randy Bachman / Robin Bachman / Charles Turner) - Bachman–Turner Overdrive
  • "Hot Pants Road" (Charles Bobbit / James Brown / St Clair Jr Pinckney) - The J.B.'s
  • "Kung Fu Fighting" (Carl Douglas) - Carl Douglas
  • "Magrelinha" (Luiz Melodia) - Luiz Melodia
  • "Metamorfose Ambulante" (Raul Seixas) - Raul Seixas
  • "Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda" (Hyldon) - Hyldon
  • "Nem Vem Que Não Tem" (Carlos Imperial) - Wilson Simonal
  • "O Caminho Do Bem" (Sérgio / Beto / Paulo) - Tim Maia
  • "Preciso Me Encontrar" (Candeia) - Cartola
  • "So Very Hard To Go" (Emilio Castillo / Stephen M. Kupka) - Tower of Power


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