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City of Men DVD Review

City of Men movie poster City of Men (Cidade dos Homens)

US Theatrical Release: February 29, 2008 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Paulo Morelli / Writers: Elena Soárez, Paulo Morelli (story)

Cast: Douglas Silva (Luis "Ace"/"Acerola" Claudio, Jr.), Darlan Cunha (Laranjinha Wallace), Jonathan Haagensen (Madrugadão "Midnight"), Rodrigo Dos Santos (Heraldo Coutinho), Camila Monteiro (Cristiane "Cris"), Naíma Silva (Camila), Eduardo BR (Nefasto "Fasto"), Luciano Vidigal (Fiel), Pedro Henrique (Caju), Vítor and Vinicius Oliveira (Clayton)

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The Brazilian film City of God had drugs, gangs, violence, and was in a foreign language. That's an elemental dream team as far as the IMDb fanboy is concerned, and accordingly, the votes at that young adult male-skewed website currently proclaim City the 17th greatest movie of all-time, a bit higher than Psycho and Citizen Kane
but not quite as high as the third Lord of the Rings. You'd suspect that fervent buzz from the important international demographic was responsible for City of God inspiring "City of Men", a half-hour dramatic television series. But in fact, the show took to Brazil's airwaves in 2002 before theaters in the US, the UK, and other major markets began screening its Oscar-nominated feature predecessor.

After four seasons, nineteen episodes and a special finale, "City of Men" has now spawned a big screen film of its own, also titled City of Men or, as IMDb prefers, its homeland equivalent Cidade dos Homens.

Set in Rio de Janeiro's aptly-named (but fictional) Dead End Hill, a place where both poverty and guns run rampant, City of Men centers on Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha), a pair of extremely close friends on the brink of turning eighteen.

"City of Men" (Cidade dos Homens) centers on best friends Luis "Acerola" Claudio, Jr. (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha Wallace (Darlan Cunha). Both actors appeared in "City of God", a film clearly inspirational to both this movie and the TV series that preceded it. A handful of clues (football player, waiter, the name Heraldo) lead Ace and Wallace to this man (Rodrigo Dos Santos), a parole line queuer who might be Wallace's father.

Having spent their childhoods on the fringe of ongoing gang warfare, Ace and Wallace approach manhood with the same threats present. However, it's a less deadly issue -- paternity -- that's more on their minds than their neighborhood's tense alliances, endless weaponry, and absentee law enforcement. For Ace, it's being a teenaged father to toddler Clayton, a responsibility he takes casually. Wallace, on the other hand, yearns to discover the identity of his own father, something Clayton and he piece together from clues.

The daddy drama is sufficiently compelling. The two tight pals are sympathetic and investable if not quite likable and our time spent with them is stimulating.
Adding to the appeal is the gritty, pungent atmosphere sure to seem very foreign to most American viewers (and apparently, many Rio residents). Also helping matters is the reservoir of four years' footage from the TV series, put to sparing but sharp use in poignant flashbacks. It's a device most filmmakers can only dream of employing, surpassing even well-cast young versions of characters needed on your typical 3-month shoots.

Though the coming of age material holds our interest even through clunky exposition (meant as catch-up for first-time viewers) and an aimless subplot (Ace's physical romance with a tall woman), the film is less fascinating when it's dealing with the street gangs. Forty-five minutes in, that's where our attentions are turned, as Wallace's cousin and Dead End Hill boss "Midnight" (Jonathan Haagensen) rightfully sees a mutiny forming out of his unappreciated right-hand man Fasto's (Eduardo BR) growing hostilities.

Midnight (a.k.a. Madrugadão, Jonathan Haagensen) recalls his introduction to guns with a visual aid. Wallace has an innocent twilight chat with love interest Camila (Naíma Silva), while her protective brother Fiel (Luciano Vidigal) remains in sight inside.

Still, you have to see that aspect coming. Kids with semi-automatic guns instead of schoolbooks in their hands gave City of God its most striking images. Violence replacing innocence is an idea central to this universe and it's part of what makes the backdrop potent. Throughout City of Men, the air is thick with these themes and a bullet-splattering power play feels inevitable. By the time we reach the second and climactic wave of violence, the film has already taken the necessary efforts to interconnect the gang violence and character drama.

Smaller, shorter, and less ambitious than City of God, City of Men nonetheless is able to satisfactorily explore the same themes in an intimate, two character-driven format.

On IMDb, City of God easily ranks as one of the highest regarded foreign films of the 21st Century. That is reflected in perennially high sales ranks of Miramax's DVD. And yet with plenty of cast, crew, and concepts in common (not to mention, two of three title words), City of Men has gained little notice. Its gross in Brazil last summer amounted to one-tenth of what City of God earned five years earlier. In the United States, the movie played in just 75 theaters and earned the paltry sum of $325 thousand, closing after only three weeks. While theatrical releases are set for the UK, France, Japan, and Russia later this year, Miramax's DVD is out first, reaching stores next Tuesday.

Buy City of Men on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extra Subtitled
Release Date: July 1, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase


City of Men appears in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Its palette is stylized and quite often dark. Grain features from time to time, in flashbacks and select moments where it seems deliberately applied. Otherwise, the appealing transfer is clean and sharp. Only one soundtrack is offered, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in the native Portuguese. It is appropriately active and not only in its moments of concentrated gunplay. The music is neither as prominent nor as familiar as the songs heard in City of God. Player-generated subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish, and English with sound descriptions for the hearing impaired.

Paulo Morelli discusses his directing methods in lone featurette "Building a City of Men." (In context, the subtitled sentence is far less suspenseful.) Golden backs on the beach from City of Men's DVD main menu recall the top part of the City of God's poster/Region 1 DVD cover.


Only one bonus feature is provided. In Portuguese with English subtitles, the featurette "Building a City of Men" packs a lot of value into its 15 minutes. A good mix of cast/crew interview comments, B-roll footage from the sets, and film clips, the piece covers all the relevant ground. Among topics discussed
are the film and series' origins, the themes, and technical aspects of production including music, stunts, and editing.

The disc opens with that strangely ubiquitous urban cowboy anti-smoking ad, followed by the trailer for the upcoming Blindness, a brand new Miramax studio promo that shows off acclaimed recent films like No Country for Old Men alongside past hits like Pulp Fiction, and a preview for Step Up 2 The Streets. The Sneak Peeks menu holds all of those except for the singing cowboy, but adds spots for "Lost": The Complete Fourth Season, The Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector's Edition, and Smart People.

The animated main menu strikes the right mood with a montage of scenes sharing the screen with a wide survey of the hill settings. Submenus follow suit without motion but with unique score excerpts. A single insert inside the case contains a list of the 14 scene selection titles.

Flashbacks like this one, in which characters are clearly younger but played by the same actors, are possible because "City of Men" was a TV show for four years before it was a movie. With Rio de Janeiro's scattered lights behind them and gang warfare around them, Ace and Wallace call it a night.


A successor to City of God in spirit, style, and talent, City of Men is not, however, a sequel. But anyone who enjoyed God would be wise to check out Men (and vice versa). Less violent and grand, Men doesn't seem destined for the same wide renown bestowed upon God, but certainly some viewers should find this drama a more accessible and equally rich film.

Miramax's DVD scores high marks in picture, sound, and (despite having just one extra), accompaniment. Those who own City of God and/or the "City of Men" TV series are not likely to regret buying this disc too. For others with interest (a small group, judging from the minimal buzz and limited marketing), a rental should satisfy.

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Reviewed June 27, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Miramax Films, O2 Filmes, Globo Filmes, Petrobras, Fox Film, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
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