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The 2002 Brazillian crime drama City of God arrives on Blu-ray and wraps up my reviews of the Studio Canal/Miramax releases.

 City of God
Telling the story of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) from his childhood in the sixties up to when he became a photo journalist, we get a ground level view of the gang ruled streets of Rio de Janeiro and its inhabitants.

Sitting down to rewatch City of God I had a realisation. I haven’t watched City of God nearly enough since first seeing it back on the initial release. A wave of regret swept over me from the moment the chicken starts running away because frankly this movie is so good it should have been on my rewatch list way before now. Directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund have such a firm grasp of the story they want to tell here that it rivals stuff like Goodfellas with its scope. Likable gangsters and its ability to take a truly dire situation and make it entertaining is rarely this well handled and once again I wonder why I haven't watched this film more.

For starters, Rocket is a character you can’t help but like. His laid back attitude to the world around him, his attempts at trying out a life of crime (but failing because he's so darn nice) and just the fact that in this dark world of scum and villainy this kid is still that good a guy makes for a someone you can't help but warm to and want to see rise above it all. As for the dark world around him, dark don’t come much darker than Li’l Ze (Leandro Firmino). From his early years in the film as the devilish laughing Li’l Dice and that moment you realise how fucking crazy this kid is at the motel massacre, this character is firmly established as one of the best villains in the history of film. He’s just someone you wouldn’t want to get on the bad side of and from his scary outbursts of hatred to his truly shocking acts, he’s a threat that you feel coming off of the screen. I mean I’ve seen City of God a couple of times but the stuff where he makes the little kids choose if they want to be shot in the hand or foot is still a pretty hard watch (thanks largely to that crying kid's brutally real performance) and some of the little nuisances in Firmino's performance still make Li’l Ze a character that has to come up on a short list when discussing truly evil movie bad guys.

 City of God
It’s not just the characters here though. The slums of City of God feel alive, they feel real and not just for the dark side of life but the interaction between friends and acquaintances. The threads with Knockout Ned and Benny feel like genuine relationships. We get Benny and why he wants to leave, we feel the friendships between Rocket and his beach buddies and even though he’s a bad guy Li’l Ze getting turned down by a pretty girl in a club still makes you feel sorry for him, even if it’s just a glimmer before he does something crazy.

City of God has what a lot of modern gangster movies leave out. A charming realism. All gangster movies aim for nowadays is looking cool and making you understand the bad guys and why they do what they do (like that makes it okay or something). City of God has an honesty about it. We know who the bad guys are and we totally understand how bad living in that world must be but at the same time we’re shown characters adapting to their lives. Rocket in a room with Li’l Ze and his friends is a bad place to be but all these kids know each other, there’s a history there and they get along, even if we’re worried about Rocket’s safety. There’s a realism in that and somehow, for me at least, it makes all these character more believable. Yeah, there’s the same old macho bullshit that fuels the bad guys and yeah I can't deny it makes me chuckle when I know I shouldn't but this story, that’s based on true events, actually feels like it probably wasn’t all that different in the reality even if the funky visuals make the situations feel a bit more playful.

 City of God

Video


City of God is one pretty looking film. Nifty camera tricks, wonderful colours and that constant warmness that makes the image pop. But this is a Studio Canal/ Miramax release and outside of The Aviator delivering the goods, these releases have not been all that great on the visuals. Well I’m glad to report City of God does deliver in HD and while it’s not always perfect it’s pretty damn striking.

From the opening scene that offers up some dazzling fine detail on that runaway chicken, City of God looks fantastic. The cool grey/blue of the image has a lot of deep dark shadows and characters' dark skin tones have a shine to them that really pops. Skipping to the sixties and the blue/grey is knocked out by sandy yellows and oranges. The warmth of the image is almost overwhelming and there’s the odd close up of the truck that the Tender Trio rob that looks incredibly sharp and generally that rule continues with the rest of the close ups in the slum. Houses, background characters and generally everything that’s out under the sun looks rich with detail, strong colours and a HD glow that’s great to look at. Wider shots can feel a little soft and sometimes even hazy and interior scenes can look much softer with the image feeling a lot flatter and edges not looking all that sharp at all. I think I noticed the odd bit of DNR in some shots dotted about here and there as well but at the same time this could be down to the high level of colour stylisation so it's not a disaster. There’s also a fair few moments where dirt appears on the edges of the screen but again nothing all that noticeable unless you’re on the look out.

 City of God
The seventies period turns the yellows into rich blues with the sky looking so blue it’s like the TV is a window out to a summers day. Darker scenes tend to vary in quality. Night exterior scenes can get a bit of a jagged edge but then the scene with two of the Tender Trio hiding from the police up a tree actually looks quite striking with its clever lighting. Scenes in clubs are usually filled with glowing neon colours such as green or pink and hold up very well. The detail of the characters' faces and clothing drop out a bit but given the right disco light placement and everything comes back to life again.

City of God is a great looking, stylish Blu-ray presentation. It’s by no means perfect and often has quite a soft digital feel to it but this look fits the look of film perfectly and as a whole the image here is alive and vibrant, popping with fine detail and wonderfully bright sun lit moments that boost everything in all the right places for an HD upgrade.

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio track here is a real winner. From the opening sharpening of a knife sounds all mixed up with the sounds of the crowd and music playing the track is lively and feels quite playful. The score builds to very powerful levels and only really drops in volume when other elements like dialogue and ambience take over.

 City of God
The majority of the strong dialogue lives in the front speakers with the voice over and scene dialogue sitting well together. The score lives in the rear speakers but often builds enough to slip into the fronts while the musical selections sound realistic in the clubs. Gunfire sounds incredible and as the movie progresses seems to get stronger. The final gunfight of the film sounds crazy good with ricocheting bullets, police sirens, shouting and Rocket’s camera clicks all working perfectly.

Extras


‘News from a Personal War’ (56:40 1080i) is a documentary shot between 1997 and 1998 in the real City of God and follows the police, the residents and the drug control problems. Stats like a person dies every half an hour in the slums and hearing the stories of some of the events are pretty bloody scary. This is a fine look behind the story of the film.

‘A Conversation with Fernando Mierelles’ (10:28 SD) is an extended EPK style featurettes with plenty of hype and review quotes and the director of the film telling us about the movie. There’s the odd bit of input from the stars and the writer and the process of how this story is based on a combination of shared stories structured in one story. It’s short but it gives us quite a bit of detail.

 City of God

Overall


City of God is a brilliant film and one that I really enjoyed revisiting (I can't beleive I left it so long - how time flies, huh?) The presentation here does it proud. Strong visuals, strong audio and some genuinely interesting features make this a Miramax title that impresses across the board.

* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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