City of God (2002 film)

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City of God
Original poster
Directed by
Produced by
  • Andrea Barata Ribeiro
  • Mauricio Andrade Ramos
Screenplay byBráulio Mantovani
Based onCity of God
by Paulo Lins
Music by
CinematographyCésar Charlone
Edited byDaniel Rezende
  • O2 Filmes
  • VideoFilmes
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
  • 18 May 2002 (2002-05-18) (Cannes)
  • 30 August 2002 (2002-08-30) (Brazil)
Running time
130 minutes
135 minutes (TIFF)
Budget$3.3 million[1]
Box office$30.6 million[2]

City of God (Portuguese: Cidade de Deus) is a 2002 Brazilian crime film directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Kátia Lund, released in its home country in 2002 and worldwide in 2003. The story was adapted by Bráulio Mantovani from the 1997 novel of the same name written by Paulo Lins, but the plot is loosely based on real events. It depicts the growth of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro, between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s, with the closure of the film depicting the war between the drug dealer Li'l Zé and vigilante-turned-criminal Knockout Ned. The tagline is "If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you."

The cast includes Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe 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 Deus itself.

The film received worldwide critical acclaim and was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2004: Best Cinematography (César Charlone), Best Director (Meirelles), Best Film Editing (Daniel Rezende), and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) (Mantovani). In 2003, it was Brazil's entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it did not end up being nominated as one of the five finalists.

Meirelles and Lund went on to create the City of Men TV series and film City of Men (2007), which share some of the actors (notably leads Douglas Silva and Darlan Cunha) and their setting with City of God.


The film begins with a scene of chickens being prepared for a meal. A chicken escapes and an armed gang chases after it in a favela called the Cidade de Deus ("City of God"). The chicken stops between the gang and a young man named Rocket (Buscapé). A flashback traces Rocket, the narrator, back to the late 1960s.

In the 1960s, the favela is a newly built housing project far from the centre of Rio de Janeiro, with little access to electricity and water. Three impoverished, amateur thieves known as the "Tender Trio" – Shaggy (Cabeleira), Clipper (Alicate), and Goose (Marreco) – rob and loot business owners; Goose is Rocket's older brother. The thieves split part of the loot with the citizens of the City and are protected by them in return. Several younger boys idolize the trio, and one, Li'l Dice (Dadinho), convinces them to hold up a motel and rob its occupants. The gang resolves not to kill anyone and tells Li'l Dice to serve as a lookout. Instead after Li'l Dice falsely warns the trio that the police are coming, he guns down the motel inhabitants. The massacre is brought to the police's attention, forcing the trio to split up: Clipper joins the church, Shaggy is shot by the police while trying to escape the favela, and Goose is shot by Li'l Dice after taking the thieving boy's money while Li'l Dice's friend Benny (Bené), who is Shaggy's brother, watches.

In the 1970s, the favela has been transformed into an urban jungle. Rocket has joined a group of young hippies. He enjoys photography and likes one girl, Angélica, but his attempt to get close to her are ruined by a gang of petty criminal kids known as "The Runts". Li'l Dice now calls himself "Li'l Zé" ("Zé Pequeno"). With Benny, he has established a drug empire by eliminating all of the competition, except for a dealer named Carrot. Carrot is a good friend of Benny's and Benny convinces Lil Zé not to go after him. Lil Zé takes over 'the apartment', a known drug distribution center, and forces Carrot's manager Blacky (Neguinho) to work for him instead. Coincidentally, Rocket is visiting the apartment to get some drugs off Blacky (who is an old classmate of Rocket's) during the apartment raid and is caught in the middle of it. Through narration, Rocket tells the viewer that he momentarily considers attempting to kill Lil Zé to avenge his brother but decides against it. He is let go after Benny tells Lil Zé that Rocket is Goose's brother.

Some time later, a relative peace comes over the City of God under the reign of Li'l Zé, who manages to avoid police attention. Benny decides to branch out of the drug dealer crowd and convinces Tiago, Angélica's ex-boyfriend, to get him some new clothes. Tiago also introduces Benny to his (and Rocket's) group of friends, and Benny and Angélica begin dating. Together, they decide to leave the City and the drug trade. During Benny's farewell party, Zé and Benny get into an argument and Blacky accidentally kills Benny while trying to shoot Li'l Zé. As Benny was the only man holding Lil Zé back from taking over Carrot's business, his death leaves Lil Zé unchecked, and Carrot kills Blacky for endangering his life. Following Benny's death, Lil Zé and a group of his soldiers start to make their way to Carrot's hideout with the intention of killing him. On the way, Lil Zé stops to hit on a girl who dismisses him. Zé follows the girl; beats up her boyfriend, a peaceful man named Knockout Ned (Mane Galinha); and rapes her. After Ned's brother stabs Lil Zé, his gang retaliates by killing his brother and uncle. Ned, looking for revenge, sides with Carrot, and a war breaks out between Carrot and Lil Zé.

A year later in the early 1980s, the war continues and even the reason for the war is forgotten. Both sides enlist more "soldiers" and Lil Zé specifically gives the Runts weapons. One day, Lil Zé has Rocket take photos of him and his gang. After Rocket leaves his film with a friend who works at a newspaper office downtown, a female reporter publishes one of the prints, a major scoop since nobody is able to safely enter the City of God anymore. Rocket believes his life is endangered, as he thinks Lil Zé will kill him for publishing the photo of him and his gang. The reporter takes Rocket in for the night, and he loses his virginity to her. Unbeknownst to him, Lil Zé is excited about the picture being published, as he believes that now, people will finally know who he is.

Rocket agrees to continue taking photographs, not realizing that Lil Zé is pleased with his increased notoriety. Rocket returns to the City for more photographs, which brings the film back to its opening scene. Confronted by the gang, Rocket is surprised that Zé asks him to take pictures, but as he prepares to take the photo, the police arrive and then drive off when Carrot arrives. In the ensuing gunfight, Ned is killed by a boy who has infiltrated his gang to avenge his father, a civilian whom Ned has shot. The police capture Li'l Zé and Carrot and plan to show Carrot off to the media. Since Lil Zé has been bribing the police, they take Lil Zé's money and let him go, but Rocket secretly photographs the scene. Lil Zé is immediately murdered by the Runts who intend to run the criminal enterprise themselves. The death is also out of revenge for the Runt that Lil Zé had one of his initiates kill. Rocket photographs Zé's dead body and brings both pictures to the newspaper.

Rocket contemplates whether to publish the photo of the cops, exposing corruption and becoming famous, or the photo of Li'l Zé's body, which will get him an internship at the newspaper. He decides on the latter and the film ends with the Runts walking around the City of God, making a hit list of the dealers they plan to kill to take over the drug business, including the Red Brigade, as well as people they simply don't like.


Many characters are known only by nicknames. The literal translation of these nicknames is given next to their original Portuguese name; the names given in English subtitles are sometimes different.

Name Actor(s) Name in English subtitles Description
Buscapé ("Firecracker") Alexandre Rodrigues (adult)
Luis Otávio (child)
Rocket The main narrator. A quiet, honest boy who dreams of becoming a photographer, and the only character who manages to prevent himself from being dragged down into corruption and murder during the gang wars. His real name is Wilson Rodrigues.
Zé Pequeno ("Little Joe" "Lil Zé")
childhood: Dadinho ("Little Eddy" "Lil Dice")
Leandro Firmino da Hora (adult)
Douglas Silva (child)
Li'l Zé
Li'l Dice
A power-hungry, sociopathic drug lord who takes sadistic pleasure in killing his rivals. When his only friend, Benny, is killed, he is driven over the edge. "Dado" is a common nickname for Eduardo, and "inho" a diminutive suffix; "dado" also means "dice". As an adult, he changes his name to Zé Pequeno in Candomblé ceremony, a religion of African origin. Since it was chosen for him at that moment, it may be unrelated to his actual name. is a nickname for José, while pequeno means "little".
Bené ("Benny") Phellipe Haagensen (adult)
Michel de Souza (child)
Benny Zé's longtime partner in crime, he is a friendly City of God drug dealer who fancies himself a sort of Robin Hood, and eventually wants to lead an honest life.
Sandro, nicknamed Cenoura ("Carrot") Matheus Nachtergaele Carrot A smaller-scale drug dealer who is friendly with Benny but is constantly threatened by Zé.
Mané Galinha ("Chicken Manny") Seu Jorge Knockout Ned A handsome, charismatic ladies' man. Zé rapes Ned's girlfriend and then proceeds to kill several members of Ned's family. Ned joins forces with Carrot to retaliate against Zé. His name was changed for the English subtitles because in English, "chicken" is a term for a coward (in Brazil it denotes popularity among women). "Mané" is a nickname for Manuel.
Cabeleira ("Long Hair") Jonathan Haagensen Shaggy Older brother of Bené ("Benny") and the leader of the Tender Trio ("Trio Ternura"), a group of thieves who share their profits with the population of the City of God.
Marreco ("Garganey") Renato de Souza Goose One of the Tender Trio, and Rocket's brother.
Alicate ("Pliers") Jefechander Suplino Clipper One of the Tender Trio. Later gives up crime and joins the church.
Barbantinho ("Little twine") Edson Oliveira (adult)
Emerson Gomes (child)
Stringy Childhood friend of Rocket.
Angélica Alice Braga Angélica A friend and love interest of Rocket, and later Benny's girlfriend, who motivates Benny to abandon the criminal life.
Tiago Daniel Zettel Tiago Angélica's boyfriend, who later becomes Li'l Zé's associate and a drug addict.
Filé com Fritas ("Steak with Fries") Darlan Cunha Steak with Fries A young boy who joins Zé's gang.
Charles, nicknamed Tio Sam ("Uncle Sam") Charles Paraventi Charles / Uncle Sam A weapons dealer.
Marina Cintra Graziella Moretto Marina Cintra A journalist for Jornal do Brasil, who hires Rocket as a photographer. Rocket has his first sexual experience with her.
Touro ("Bull") Luiz Carlos Ribeiro Seixas Touro An honest police officer.
Cabeção ("Big Head") Maurício Marques Melonhead A corrupt police officer.
Lampião ("Lantern") Thiago Martins Lampião Child leader of the Runts gang.
Otávio Marcos Junqueira Otávio Child leader of the Runts gang.


On the 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.[3] Most of the remaining cast were from real-life favelas, and in some cases, even the real-life City of God favela itself. According to Meirelles, amateur actors were used for two reasons: the lack of available professional black actors, and the desire for authenticity. Meirelles explained: "Today I can open a casting call and have 500 black actors, but just ten years ago this possibility did not exist. In Brazil, there were three or four young black actors and at the same time I felt that actors from the middle class could not make the film. I needed authenticity."[4] Beginning around 2000, about a hundred children and young people were hand-picked and placed into an "actors' workshop" for several months.[3] 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.[3] After filming, the crew could not leave the cast to return to their old lives in the favelas. Help groups were set up to help those involved in the production to build more promising futures[citation needed].

Prior to City of God, Lund and Meirelles filmed the short film Golden Gate as a test run.[3] Casting for City of God was finalized only after it was filmed[citation needed].

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.


Box office[edit]

The film was screened out of competition at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.[5] In Brazil, City of God garnered the largest audience for a domestic film in 2003, with over 300.1 million tickets sold, and a gross of 180.6 million reais ($103 million).[6] The film grossed over $7.5 million in the U.S. and over $30.5 million worldwide (in U.S. Dollars).[7]

Critical reception[edit]

City of God gathered 90% favourable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and 79% on Metacritic.[8][9] Empire chose it as the 177th best film of all time in 2008,[10] and TIME chose it as one of the 100 greatest films of all time.[11] Critic Roger Ebert gave the film a four-star review, writing "'City of God' churns with furious energy as it plunges into the story of the slum gangs of Rio de Janeiro. Breathtaking and terrifying, urgently involved with its characters, it announces a new director of great gifts and passions: Fernando Meirelles. Remember the name.".[12]

The film was not without criticism. Peter Rainer of New York Magazine stated that while the film was "powerful", it was also "rather numbing". John Powers of L.A. Weekly wrote that "[the film] whirs with energy for nearly its full 130 minute running time, it is oddly lacking in emotional heft for a work that aspires to be so epic – it is essentially a tarted up exploitation picture whose business is to make ghastly things fun".[13]

City of God was ranked third in Film4's "50 Films to See Before You Die", and ranked No.7 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[14] It was also ranked No.6 on The Guardian's list of "the 25 Best Action Movies Ever".[15] It was ranked 1# in Paste magazine's 50 best movies of the decade of the 2000s.[16]

In 2012, the Motion Picture Editors Guild listed City of God as the seventeenth best-edited film of all time based on a survey of its members.[17]

Top ten lists[edit]

The film appeared on several American critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2003.[18]

It is #38 on the BBC list of best 100 films of the 21st century.[19]

Awards and nominations[edit]

City of God won fifty-five awards and received another twenty-nine nominations. Among those:

Organization Award Recipient Result Ref
Academy Awards Best Director Fernando Meirelles Nominated [20]
Best Adapted Screenplay Bráulio Mantovani Nominated
Best Cinematography César Charlone Nominated
Best Film Editing Daniel Rezende Nominated
AFI Fest Audience Award Won [21]
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Language Film Nominated [22]
British Academy Film Awards Best Editing Daniel Rezende Won [23]
Best Foreign Film Andrea Barata Ribeiro, Mauricio Andrade Ramos,
Fernando Meirelles
Nominated [24]
British Independent Film Awards Best Foreign Independent Film Won [25]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won [26]
Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Language Film Nominated [27]
Golden Trailer Awards Best Independent Foreign Film Won [28]
Grande Prêmio do Cinema Brasileiro Best Film Won [29]
Best Director Fernando Meirelles Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Bráulio Mantovani Won
Best Cinematography César Charlone Won
Best Editing Daniel Rezende Won
Best Sound Guilherme Ayrosa, Paulo Ricardo Nunes,
Alessandro Laroca, Alejandro Quevedo, Carlos Honc,
Roland Thai, Rudy Pi, Adam Sawelson
Best Actor Leandro Firmino Nominated [30]
Best Actress Roberta Rodrigues Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jonathan Haagensen Nominated [31]
Best Supporting Actor Douglas Silva Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Alice Braga Nominated [32]
Best Supporting Actress Graziela Moretto Nominated
Best Art Direction Tulé Peak Nominated [33]
Best Costume Design Bia Salgado, Inês Salgado Nominated [34]
Best Makeup Anna Van Steen Nominated [35]
Best Soundtrack Antonio Pinto, Ed Côrtes Nominated [36]
Independent Spirit Awards Best Foreign Language Film Fernando Meirelles Nominated [37]
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won [38]
Motion Picture Sound Editors Best Sound Editing in a Foreign Film Martín Hernández, Roland N. Thai, Alessandro Laroca Won [39]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won [40]
Prism Awards Best Theatrical Film Won [41]
Satellite Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won [42]
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won [43]
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won [44]
Toronto International Film Festival Visions Award – Special Citation Won [45]


The score to the film composed by Antonio Pinto and Ed Córtes. It was followed by two remix albums. Songs from the film:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Izmirlian, Pablo (4 September 2005). "From Way South of the Border, an Ecuadorean Thriller". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  2. ^ "City of God (2003) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d City of God DVD extras
  4. ^ Bessa, Priscila. "Dez anos depois, diretor de Cidade de Deus diz ter prejuízo de R$ 4 milhões". 4 June 2012. Internet Group / Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: City of God". Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  6. ^ "Informe 269" (PDF) (in Portuguese). Filme B. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2009.
  7. ^ City of God at Box Office Mojo.
  8. ^ City of God at Rotten Tomatoes.
  9. ^ "City of God critic reviews". Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  10. ^ The 500 Greatest Movies of All-Time: 184–175, Empire
  11. ^ "City of God – ALL-TIME 100 movies". TIME. 12 February 2005. Archived from the original on 25 May 2005. Retrieved 8 January 2014.
  12. ^ "City of God (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
  13. ^ "City of God critic reviews". Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  14. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema | 7. City of God". Empire.
  15. ^ Fox, Killian (19 October 2010). "City of God: No 6 best action movie and war film of all time | Film | The Guardian". The Guardian. London.
  16. ^ "The 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000-2009)". Paste. November 3, 2009. Retrieved December 3, 2014.
  17. ^ "The 75 Best Edited Films". Editors Guild Magazine. 1 (3). May 2012.
  18. ^ "Metacritic: 2003 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 25 December 2007. Retrieved 5 January 2008.
  19. ^ "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". BBC. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  20. ^ Gray, Tim (2004-01-27). "A wing-ding for 'The King'". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  21. ^ Berkshire, Geoff (2002-11-18). "'Shoujyo' nabs AFI jury prize". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  22. ^ Hirsch, Lisa (2003-03-09). "Handicapping Oscar". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  23. ^ Dawtrey, Adam (2003-02-23). "High notes for 'Pianist'". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  24. ^ "Kudos count". Variety. 2004-02-15. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  25. ^ Dawtrey, Adam (2003-11-04). "'Dirty' sweeps BIFAs". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  26. ^ Rooney, David (2004-01-21). "'King' reigns among Chi crix". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  27. ^ Gray, Tim (2002-12-19). "Miramax & 'Chi' fly high". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  28. ^ Berkshire, Geoff (2004-05-26). "'Stepford' steps off with best-trailer trophy". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  29. ^ "Academia Brasileira de Cinema divulga lista dos melhores de 2002". Folha de S.Paulo (in Portuguese). Grupo Folha. December 17, 2003. Retrieved February 16, 2015 – via Universo Online.
  30. ^ ""Oscar brasileiro" anuncia finalistas". O Estado de S. Paulo (in Portuguese). Grupo Estado. November 3, 2003. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  31. ^ "Finalistas 2003: Melhor Ator Coadjuvante" (in Portuguese). Academia Brasileira de Cinema. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  32. ^ "Finalistas 2003: Melhor Atriz Coadjuvante" (in Portuguese). Academia Brasileira de Cinema. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  33. ^ "Finalistas 2003: Melhor Direção de Arte" (in Portuguese). Academia Brasileira de Cinema. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  34. ^ "Finalistas 2003: Melhor Figurino" (in Portuguese). Academia Brasileira de Cinema. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  35. ^ "Finalistas 2003: Melhor Maquiagem" (in Portuguese). Academia Brasileira de Cinema. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  36. ^ "Finalistas 2003: Melhor Trilha Sonora" (in Portuguese). Academia Brasileira de Cinema. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  37. ^ Susman, Gary (2003-12-03). "Here are the Independent Spirit Award nominees". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  38. ^ Grimm, Bob (2004-01-08). "Las Vegas Film Critics Society 2003 Winners". News & Review. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  39. ^ Kamzan, Josh (2004-03-03). "Pic 'Masters' sound kudos". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  40. ^ Rooney, David (2003-12-15). "Gotham crix crown 'King' as best film". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  41. ^ "Prism Awards honor actors for portrayals". Deseret News. 2004-05-01. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  42. ^ Maldonado, Ryan (2003-12-17). "Satellites pix picked". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  43. ^ "The Critics' Choice". Entertainment Weekly. 2004-01-09. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  44. ^ Kelly, Brendan (2003-12-17). "Toronto crix speak up for 'Translation'". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  45. ^ Tillson, Tamsen (2002-09-15). "A 'Whale' of a tale in Toronto". Variety. Retrieved 2015-02-13.

External links[edit]