Splintered off from Fernando Meirelles' undeniable City of God, Paulo Morelli
's City of Men, a continuation of the acclaimed Sundance Channel TV series, takes on a similar ghetto with a similar Dickensian cast of gangsters, seasoned veterans, and day-job so-and-sos as they go 12 rounds with the day-to-day routine of slum life in Rio de Janeiro. But where God used a central eye to see the pervasive crawl of violence in the ghetto, Men goes for straight shooting and high hopes.
Morelli, a veteran of the television series, continues to document the lives of two young men that make their home in the area known as Dead End Hill. One, a young father named Ace (Darlan Cunha
), has a problem paying attention to his son while also trying to excise his youthful indiscretions. The other, a motorcycle-taxi driver named Wallace (Douglas Silva
), wants to find his father before he gets his ID card for his 18th birthday. These young roustabouts, especially Ace, find themselves in the middle of a turf war between likable though snotty gang leader Midnight (Jonathan Haagensen) and his right-hand man Fasto (Eduardo BR). Article continues below
Attempting to ride the same wave as God, the film has a fleeting interest in all the characters it brushes up against, from Wallace's ex-con pop Heraldo (Rodrigo dos Santos
) to Ace's wife (Camila Monteiro) to wannabe-gangster Caju (Pedro Henrique). Despite its moments of visceral gunplay and the suspenseful night raids staged by Midnight to regain his territory, Men inverts the cause of God's unfathomable power and plays things as strictly optimistic with a glint towards the future: the next season of the show.
Rocket, the central character of City of God, is a product of his environment, taking no time to go into his personal history. Rocket doesn't necessarily matter in the pastiche of his story, making every character he brushes up against just as important as him. In this light, characters like Li'l Ze, Carrot, Knockout Ned, Benny, and Li'l Dice become even more memorable than the central lead. Reminiscent of Steve Coogan's summation of his fictional life in 24 Hour Party People, Rocket is a minor character in his own story.
City of Men's downfall is its terminally conventional pull to run every action and character through Ace and Wallace's perspective. It ultimately comes to the fact that you might have to have seen every episode of the series to fully appreciate the minor revelations the film springs on you: Wallace meeting Heraldo, Fasto betraying Midnight, Cristine leaving Ace with Clayton. In the eyes of a veteran viewer, the payoff might be a whopper but then, what's the point of a film filled with these revelations?
Perhaps it's unfair to consider Morelli's film against Meirelles': You might as well compare a company newsletter to Candide. But Men lacks history, relevance and, perhaps most substantially, charisma. It wanders up and down the slanted streets and dilapidated shops and houses with the recognizable air of "look how good we have it." But at the end, when Ace, Wallace, and Clayton walk off without any ties to their slum-sweet-slum, you can almost hear the soundtrack cueing up "Three Little Birds."