“City of Men” is a story about fathers and crime and poverty. The movie is set in the slums, of Rio de Janeiro. Each hill in the city has its own ruling gang of teens and young men, and the bickering and sniping between gangs is ongoing.
Ace (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha), best friends from birth, are too smart to take up arms and join Midnight’s (Jonathan Haagensen) gang. Ace has just turned 18, but already he is married to Cris (Camila Monteiro), with whom he has a young son.
Fatherless himself, Ace has problems giving up a free lifestyle to babysit when Cris goes to work. Laranjinha also grew up without a father; in fact, he doesn’t know who his father was, and much of the film is taken up with his and Ace’s search for the unknown man.
Writers Elena Soarez and Paulo Morelli (who also directed) pile the Dickensian coincidences high, but the movie is the theatrical version of a Brazilian television series that ran from 2002 to 2005, so simplistic plotting devices are to be expected. Most of the actors are re-creating the characters they played on TV, and the movie ties together some plot threads left dangling when the show went off the air.
But if some of the opera is awfully soapy, much of the undercurrent in the gang story is chilling. Be prepared for subtitles and a little too many short cuts in the plotting, but fans of international cinema will likely enjoy this one.