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Heroes of the Zeroes: City of God

by on March 5, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“City of God”
Rated R

“City of God’s” unnerving prologue — in which a chicken is prepared for slaughter — foretells the cutthroat quickness with which residents of this gang-riddled Brazilian slum can be chopped, skinned, consumed, excreted and forgotten.

Earning its coronation as a seminal hood tale, this 2002 import carried the emphatic electricity of “Goodfellas,” the allure in redemption of “A Bronx Tale” and the social rigors of “The Wire.” Persistent kid-on-kid violence often felt like watching pint-sized versions of Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale, but “God” eventually put man and boy on equal footing as the guts of both oozed into dirt.

Reflective of its name, the City of God is a place of inexplicable miracles and intricate vengeance where everyone’s story folds into someone else’s existence.

Li’l Dice (later Li’l Zé) erases the Tender Trio’s early thug-life template with a psychotically itchy trigger finger. Dice’s actions terrify and inspire photographer Rocket to rise above the muck. Rocket is a peripheral pal to Benny, who attempts to retire from Dice’s drug game (in a perfect miniaturization of “Carlito’s Way”). And Knockout Ned, the only hero the slum gets, only earns that title because of senseless violence and, tragically, perverts even that.

Co-directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund and screenwriter Bráulio Mantovani endow each chapter with powerful, uncompromising, beguiling and, sometimes, deceptive momentum. What seem like innocuous plot or character turns become so critical to the narrative that they tie into the ruthless idea at hand: You never see the bullet that kills you.