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City of God ( ) is a 2002 Brazilian crime drama film directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, released in its home country in 2002 and worldwide in 2003. It was adapted by Bráulio Mantovani from the 1997 novel of the same name written by Paulo Lins. It depicts the growth of organized crime in the Rio de Janeiromarker suburb of Cidade de Deusmarker, between the end of the '60s and the beginning of the '80s, with the closure of the film depicting the war between the drug dealer Li'l Zé and criminal Knockout Ned. The tagline is "Fight and you'll never survive..... Run and you'll never escape."

The cast includes Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Jonathan Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Alice Braga and Seu Jorge. Most of the actors were, in fact, residents of favelas such as Vidigal and the Cidade de Deusmarker itself.

The film received four Academy Award nominations in 2004: Best Cinematography (César Charlone), Best Directing (Meirelles), Best Editing (Daniel Rezende) and Best Writing (Mantovani). Before that, in 2003 it had been chosen to be Brazil's runner for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it was not nominated to be one of the five finalists.

Meirelles and Lund went on to create the City of Men TV series and film City of Men, which share some of the actors (notably leads Douglas Silva and Darlan Cunha) and their setting with City of God.


The movie begins depicting chickens being prepared for a meal. A chicken escapes and an armed gang chases after it. The chicken comes to a stop between the gang and a boy named Rocket, who believes that the gang want to kill him. The timeline then flashes back to ten years earlier, as Rocket (Busca pé in Portuguese) tells the story of how he got himself into that position.

Three "hoodlums", "The Tender Trio" - Shaggy, Clipper and Goose (Rocket's brother) - are terrorizing local businesses with armed holdups. In Robin Hood fashion, they split part of the loot with the citizens of slum known as the 'City of God', and are protected by them in return. Several younger boys idolize the trio and follow them around - one such hanger-on, known as Li'l Dice ("Dadinho" in Portuguese), convinces them to hold up a motel and rob its occupants. The gang agree but, resolving not to kill anyone, tell Li'l Dice that he is too young to accompany them and must serve as lookout. They give him a gun and tell him to fire a warning shot if the police arrive. Unsatisfied with this, Li'l Dice fires a warning shot mid-robbery and proceeds to fulfill his bloodlust by slaughtering all the inhabitants of the motel once the gang have run off. The massacre brings on the attention of the police, forcing the 'Tender Trio' to leave the slum. Clipper joins the church, and Shaggy is shot by the police while trying to escape with his girlfriend. Goose (Rocket's brother) is shot by Li'l Dice after attempting to rob the younger boy and his friend Benny, who both have been hiding out and committing crimes on their own since the motel incident.

The timeline jumps forward a number of years. Rocket has become a part of the "Groovies", a hippie-like group of youths that enjoy smoking pot. He develops an interest in photography by taking pictures of his friends, especially one girl that he is infatuated with, but he is unable to get close to her because of a group of younger, unarmed criminals known as the Runts. Li'l Dice now calls himself Li'l Zé ("Zé Pequeno" in Portuguese), and along with his childhood friend Benny, he establishes a drug empire by eliminating all of the competition except for a drug dealer named Carrot ("Cenoura").

A relative peace has come over the City of God under the reign of Li'l Zé, who avoids the police's attention by accosting and having his henchmen kill one of the Runts, who had been committing petty crimes in the area. Li'l Zé plans to kill his last rival, Carrot, but is stopped by Benny, who is a friend of Carrot's. Eventually, along with the girl that he has wooed away from Rocket, Benny decides to leave the criminal life behind to live on a farm and throws a farewell party. Li'l Zé, unable to find a girl who will dance with him at the party, humiliates a peace-loving man named Knockout Ned. Later, Benny is gunned down by a former drug dealer, Blackie, who was aiming for Li'l Zé. Benny was the only man holding Li'l Ze back from taking over Carrot's business, leaving Carrot in danger.

Following Benny's death, Li'l Zé rapes Ned's girlfriend, then kills his uncle and younger brother. Ned, looking for revenge, sides with Carrot. After Ned kills one of Li'l Ze's men and wounds Li'l Zé, a war breaks out between the two rival factions that engulfs the whole of the City of God. Both sides enlist more and more 'soldiers', with Li'l Zé providing weapons for the Runts on the condition that they will fight for him. Jealous of Ned's notoriety in the newspapers, Li'l Zé has Rocket take photos of himself and his gang. Unknown to Rocket, a reporter decides to publish the developed prints in the daily paper. Rocket then fears for his life, mistakenly believing that Li'l Zé will want to kill him, although Li'l Zé is actually very pleased with his increased notoriety.

The story has come around full circle to the start of the movie. Confronted by the gang, Rocket is surprised Li'l Zé's asking him to take a picture of them. Just as Rocket prepares to take the photograph, however, Carrot arrives and a gunfight ensues between the two gangs, and later the police. Ned is killed by a boy who has infiltrated his gang to avenge his father, who was killed in an earlier scene by Ned during a bank robbery. Li'l Zé and Carrot are arrested and Carrot is taken away to be paraded in front of the press. Li'l Zé is shaken down for money, humiliated, and finally released, all while being secretly photographed by Rocket. After the cops leave, the Runts surround Li'l Zé and execute him in retribution for how he treated them earlier in the film. Rocket takes pictures of Li'l Zé's dead body and goes to the newspaper.

Rocket is seen in the newspaper office looking at all of his photographs through a magnifying glass, and deciding whether or not to put the pictures of the crooked cops in the newspaper, or the picture of Zé's dead body. The photos of the cops would make him famous but put him in danger, while the photos of Li'l Zé would guarantee him a job at the paper. He decides to take the safe route, and the newspaper runs his picture of Li'l Zé's bullet-ridden corpse.

The story ends with the Runts walking around the City of God, making a hit list of the dealers they plan to kill in order to take over the drug business. They mention that a "Red Command (Comando Vermelho)" is coming.


Translation into English of character's names that were nicknames are between parenthesis when applicable.

  • Buscapé (Rocket), played by Alexandre Rodrigues (adult) and Luis Otávio (child): The main narrator and protagonist. A quiet, honest boy who dreams of becoming a photographer, and the only character who seems to keep from being dragged down into corruption and murder during the gang wars.
  • Zé Pequeno (Li'l Zé), played by Leandro Firmino da Hora: An ultra-violent, psychopathic drug dealer who goes over dead bodies to fulfill his goals. He is deeply insecure with women. When his only friend Bené is struck by fate, it drives him over the edge. In his childhood, Zé had the nickname "Dadinho (Li'l Dice)", and was portrayed by Douglas Silva
  • Bené (Benny), played by Phellipe Haagensen (adult) and Michel de Souza (child): Li'l Zé's longtime partner in crime, he is a friendly drug dealer of the City of God, a charismatic and philanthropic criminal who wants to become honest.
  • Sandro Cenoura (Carrot), played by Matheus Nachtergaele: A smaller scale drug dealer who is friendly with Bené but is constantly threatened by Zé.
  • Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned), played by Seu Jorge: A good-looking ladies' man with a beautiful girlfriend. When his girlfriend attracts Zé's eye, Zé rapes her and then proceeds to massacre several members of Mané's family. In retaliation, Mané and Carrot join forces.
  • Cabeleira (Shaggy), played by Jonathan Haagensen: Leader of the Trio Ternura (Tender Trio), a group of robbers who shared their profit with the population of Cidade de Deus.
  • Marreco (Goose), played by Renato de Souza: One of the Trio Ternura, and Buscapé's brother.
  • Alicate (Clipper, the correct term is "Pliers"), played by Jefechander Suplino: One of the Trio Ternura. Later gives up crime and joins the church.
  • Barbantinho (Stringy), played by Emerson Gomes (child) and Edson Oliveira (adult): A childhood friend of Buscapé.
  • Angélica, played by Alice Braga: An old friend and love interest of Buscapé, and later Bené's girlfriend - who stimulates him to abandon the criminal life.
  • Tiago, played by Daniel Zettel: Angélica's redheaded first boyfriend, later became Zé Pequeno's associate who addicted to drugs.
  • "Filé com Fritas" ("Steak with Fries"), played by Darlan Cunha as : A young drug addict hired by Zé's gang.
  • Charles Tio Sam (Uncle Sam), played by Charles Paraventi: A weapons dealer.
  • Marina Cintra, played by Graziella Moretto: A journalist for Jornal do Brasilmarker, who later hires Buscapé as a photographer.
  • Touro ("Bull") and Cabeção" ("Big Head"), played by Luiz Carlos Ribeiro Seixas and Maurício Marques: Two corrupt policemen.
  • "Thiago Martins and Marcos Junqueira", played by Lampião and Otávio: Child leaders of the Caixa Baixa (Runts) gang.

Production background

On the City of God bonus DVD, it is revealed that the only professional actor with years of filming experience was Matheus Nachtergaele, who played the supporting role of Carrot. Most of the remaining cast were from real-life favelas, and in some cases, even the real-life City of God favela itself. From initially about 2000, about a hundred children and youths were hand-picked and placed into an "actors' workshop" for several months. In contrast to more traditional methods (e.g. studying theatre and rehearsing), it focused on simulating authentic street war scenes, such as a hold-up, a scuffle, a shoot-out etc. A lot came from improvisation, as it was thought better to create an authentic, gritty atmosphere. This way, the inexperienced cast soon learned to move and act naturally.

Prior to City of God, the directors Lund and Meirelles filmed a short film Golden Gate as a sort of test run. Only after then was the casting for City of God finalized . The most remarkable choice was Leandro da Hora as "Li'l" Zé Pequeno, as da Hora was unanimously described as a quiet, uncomplicated soul, but now played the most psychotic, ultra-violent drug dealer in the City of God. Da Hora himself describes his character as "pretty unbalanced, greedy and acted without thinking in everything he did... I see him like a normal person, but someone who through the ironies of destiny took a wrong turn somewhere."

Appropriately, the film ends eavesdropping on the machinations of the "Runts" as they assemble their death list. The real gang, "Caixa Baixa" (Low Gang), is rumored to have composed such a list.


Public acclaim

The film was screened out of competition at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. In Brazil, City of God garnered the largest audience for a domestic film in 2002, with over 3.1 million tickets sold, and a gross of 18.6 million reais ($10,3 million). The film also grossed over 7 million dollars in the U.S. and over 27 million worldwide. City of God is listed at #16 in the Internet Movie Database's Top 250 Films as voted by the site's users.

Critical acclaim

City of God received impressive positive acclaim from major publications in the United States, gathering 93% of favourable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Empire chose it as the 177th best film of all time in 2008, and Time chose it as one of the 100 greatest movies of all time.

In the UKmarker it was ranked 3rd in Film4's "50 Films to See Before You Die".

Top ten lists

The film appeared on several American critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2003.

Awards and nominations

According to the Internet Movie Database, City of God won forty-eight awards and received other twenty-one nominations. Among those:

Academy Awards

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards

BAFTA Film Awards

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

Golden Globe Awards

Independent Spirit Awards
  • Nominated: Best Foreign Language Film

Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Satellite Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

Toronto Film Critics Association Awards
  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

Toronto International Film Festivalmarker
  • Won: Visions Award - Special Citation


The score to the film composed by Antonio Pinto (and his partner Ed Córtes) was followed by two Remix albums. Songs from the film:


  1. City of God DVD extras
  2. City of God at Box Office Mojo.
  3. IMDb Top 250 movies at Internet Movie Database.
  4. City of God at Rotten Tomatoes.
  5. The 500 Greatest Movies of All-Time: 184-175, Empire
  6. City of God - ALL-TIME 100 movies
  7. Awards and nominations for City of God at the Internet Movie Database.

External links

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