"City of Men": Two and a half stars
"City of Men" has been touted as a sequel of sorts to Fernando Meirelles' 2002 feature "City of God," which is something of a mistake.
Fans of that film, looking for the same kinetic action and frenetic filmmaking Meirelles brought to that movie, will be most likely surprised (and a bit disappointed) by how much of a melodrama "Men" really is. Because the movie is actually a sequel not to "God," but to the 2002-2005 Brazilian TV show of the same name that was inspired by "God." The film even has flashback montages from the series, showing the actors at much younger times.
More lighthearted and character-driven, the movie "Men" follows in the same kitchen-sink vibe as the TV show (which some of you Americans may have caught when it ran on the Sundance Channel). With director Paulo Morelli, who wrote and directed many "Men" episodes, taking over the in-your-face, hand-held camera reins (Meirelles serves as a producer), the movie still centers on longtime chums Acerola, aka Ace, (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha, aka Wallace, (Darlan Cunha), two boys from Brazilian favela (read: slum) Dead-End Hill who are about to hit their 18th birthdays shockingly alive and kicking.
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So this means they have some mature things to do. For the fatherless, lecherous Ace, it's taking care of his young son while his baby's mama plans to move away to make some money and a better life. For Wallace, it's time for him to find the father (Rodrigo dos Santos) he never knew. Keep in mind, all this is happening in the middle of a deadly gang war, as a gang lieutenant (Eduardo BR) turns rogue, takes a few other members with him and engages in a full-on battle with his former warlord captain (Jonathan Haagensen, playing the world's most sympathetic gang leader) for favela dominance.
"Men" appears to be a movie for those who thought the TV show didn't end on the right note. But, as you're watching this, you can't help but ask why didn't the producers just show this on television. It certainly feels as if you're watching a little-screen production on a gigantic plasma screen. While the actors do a credible job as Brazil's young and impoverished, the story feels obvious, offering little surprises and even weaker revelations.
But "Men" is nonetheless a film about when boys are reluctantly forced to become men, when they must confront adulthood and do their best not to make the same mistakes their fathers and elders have made. It's a universal tale told in a darker, smoother shade of brown.
"City of Men" may not crackle and pop the way some viewers expect it to, but it does snap in delivering the fears and anxieties most men go through when they have no choice but to just be a man about it.