City of God (2002)


City of God (2002)
Cidade de Deus (original title)

Brazil, 1960s, City of God. The Tender Trio robs motels and gas trucks. Younger kids watch and learn well...too well. 1970s: Li'l Zé has prospered very well and owns the city. He causes violence and fear as he wipes out rival gangs without mercy. His best friend Bené is the only one to keep him on the good side of sanity. Rocket has watched these two gain power for years, and he wants no part of it. he keeps getting swept up in the madness. All he wants to do is take pictures. 1980s: Things are out of control between the last two remaining gangs...will it ever end? Welcome to the City of God.
IMDb   8.6 /10
Metacritic   79 %
TheMovieDb    8.4 /10
RottenTomatoes  91 %
FilmAffinity   8.4 /10
Release Date2002-08-30
Runtime2h 10mins
GenreCrime, Drama
Content RatingR (R)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #22 | Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 74 wins & 46 nominations.
CompanyO2 Filmes, VideoFilmes, Globo Filmes
CountryBrazil, France, Germany
Buscapé - Rocket
Zé Pequeno - Li'l Zé (as Leandro Firmino da Hora)
Dadinho - Li'l Dice
Cabeleira - Shaggy
Sandro Cenoura - Carrot
Mané Galinha - Knockout Ned
Alicate - Clipper
Barbantinho - Stringy
Barbantinho Adulto - Older Stringy
Bené Criança - Young Benny (as Michel De Souza Gomes)
Berenice - Bernice
Buscapé Criança - Young Rocket
Cabeção - Melonhead (as Maurício Marques)

City of God (2002 film)

City of God (Portuguese: Cidade de Deus) is a 2002 Brazilian crime film co-directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, released in its home country in 2002 and worldwide in 2003. Bráulio Mantovani adapted the story 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 film's closure 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 widespread 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. It is frequently listed by many critics and audiences as one of the greatest films of the 21st century and one of the best films of all time.

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 Silva and Darlan Cunha) and their setting with City of God.


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The film begins in medias res with an armed gang chasing after an escaped chicken in a favela called the Cidade de Deus ("City of God"). The chicken stops between the gang and the narrator, a young man nicknamed Rocket ("Buscapé").

The film flashes back to the 1960s where the favela is shown as a newly built housing project with few resources. Three impoverished, amateur thieves known as the "Tender Trio" – Shaggy ("Cabeleira"), Clipper ("Alicate"), and Rocket's older brother, Goose ("Marreco") – rob business owners and share the money with the community who, in turn, hide them from the police. Li'l Dice (Dadinho), a young boy, 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, Li'l Dice guns down the motel occupants after falsely warning the trio that the police are coming. The massacre attracts so much police attention that the trio is forced 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 his money while Li'l Dice's friend Benny (Bené), 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 is ruined by a gang of petty criminal kids known as "The Runts". Li'l Dice, who now calls himself "Li'l Zé" ("Zé Pequeno"), has established a drug empire with Benny by eliminating all of the competition, except for Carrot, who is a good friend of Benny's.

Li'l Zé takes over 'the apartment', a known drug distribution center, and forces Carrot's manager Blacky ("Neguinho"), to work for him instead. Coincidentally, Rocket visits the apartment to get some drugs off Blacky for Angélica during the apartment raid. Through narration, Rocket momentarily considers attempting to kill Li'l Zé to avenge his brother but decides against it. He is let go after Benny tells Li'l Zé that Rocket is Goose's brother.

Sometime 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 befriends Tiago, Angélica's ex-boyfriend, who introduces him to his (and Rocket's) friend group. 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. Blacky accidentally kills Benny while trying to shoot Li'l Zé. Benny's death leaves Li'l Zé unchecked. Carrot kills Blacky for endangering his life. Li'l Zé and a group of his soldiers start to make their way to Carrot's hideout to kill him.

On the way, Zé follows a girl who dismissed his advances at Benny's party. He beats up her boyfriend, a peaceful man named Knockout Ned (Mané Galinha), and rapes her. After Ned's brother stabs Li'l Zé, his gang retaliates by shooting into his house, killing his brother and uncle in the process. A gang war breaks out between Carrot and Li'l Zé. A vengeful Ned sides with Carrot.

The war is still ongoing a year later, in 1981, the origin forgotten. Both sides enlist more "soldiers" and Li'l Zé gives the Runts weapons. One day, Li'l Zé has Rocket take photos of him and his gang. A reporter publishes the photos, a significant scoop since no outsiders can safely enter the City of God anymore. Rocket believes his life is endangered, as he thinks Li'l 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, Li'l Zé, jealous of Ned's media fame, is pleased with the photos and with his own increased notoriety.

Rocket returns to the City for more photographs, bringing 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's gang arrives. In the ensuing gunfight, Ned is killed by a boy who has infiltrated his gang to avenge his father, a policeman whom Ned has shot. The police capture Li'l Zé and Carrot and plan to show Carrot off to the media. Since Li'l Zé has been bribing the police, they take all of Li'l Zé's money and let him go, but Rocket secretly photographs the scene. The Runts murder Zé to avenge the Runt murdered at the behest of Zé; they intend to run his criminal enterprise themselves.

Rocket contemplates whether to publish the cops' photo, expose corruption, and become famous, or the picture of Li'l Zé's dead body, which will get him an internship at the newspaper. He decides on the latter, fearing a violent response from the cops, as well as seeing the opportunity to pursue his dream. 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.


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.

NameActor(s)Name in English subtitlesDescription
Buscapé ("Firecracker")Alexandre Rodrigues (adult)
Luis Otávio (child)
RocketThe narrator, who dreams of becoming a photographer. His real name is Wilson Rodrigues.
Zé Pequeno ("Lil Zé")
Dadinho ("Lil Dice")
Leandro Firmino da Hora (adult)
Douglas Silva (child)
Li'l Zé
Li'l Dice
A power-hungry, sociopath who takes sadistic pleasure in killing. "Dado" is a common nickname for Eduardo and means "dice", and "inho" a diminutive suffix. As an adult, he is given the name Zé Pequeno in a Candomblé ceremony, which may be unrelated to his actual name. is a nickname for José, while pequeno means "little".
Bené ("Benny")Phellipe Haagensen (adult)
Michel de Souza Gomes (child)
BennyZé'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 NachtergaeleCarrotA smaller-scale drug dealer who is friendly with Benny but is constantly threatened by Zé.
Mané Galinha ("Chicken Manny")Seu JorgeKnockout NedA 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 HaagensenShaggyOlder 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.
BereniceRoberta RodriguesBereniceShaggy's Girlfriend.
Marreco ("Garganey")Renato de SouzaGooseOne of the Tender Trio, and Rocket's brother.
Alicate ("Pliers")Jefechander SuplinoClipperOne of the Tender Trio. He later gives up crime to join the Church and is not seen for the rest of the movie, he is the only one of the trio who was not murdered.
Barbantinho ("Little twine")Edson Oliveira (adult)
Emerson Gomes (child)
StringyChildhood friend of Rocket.
AngélicaAlice BragaAngélicaA friend and love interest of Rocket, and later Benny's girlfriend, who motivates Benny to abandon the criminal life.
TiagoDaniel ZettelTiagoAngélica's ex-boyfriend, who later becomes Li'l Zé's associate and a drug addict.
Filé com Fritas ("Steak with Fries")Darlan CunhaSteak with FriesA young boy who joins Zé's gang.
Charles, nicknamed Tio Sam ("Uncle Sam")Charles ParaventiCharles / Uncle SamA weapons dealer.
Marina CintraGraziella MorettoMarina CintraA journalist for Jornal do Brasil, who hires Rocket as a photographer.
Touro ("Bull")Luiz Carlos Ribeiro SeixasTouroAn honest police officer.
Cabeção ("Big Head")Maurício MarquesMelonheadA corrupt police officer.
Lampião ("Lantern")Thiago MartinsLampiãoChild leader of the Runts gang.
OtávioMarcos JunqueiraOtávioChild 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. 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."

Beginning around 2000, about a hundred children and young people 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, scuffle, and shoot-out. 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. 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.: 135–139

Meirelles went into the film with the intention of staying true to the "casual nature" of the violence in the novel by Lins. Critic Jean Oppenheimer wrote on the production of the film saying that: "A second guiding principle was to avoid glamorising the violence" and that "many of the killings are either shown indistinctly or kept out of frame.": 26–32

Because the real Cidade de Deus favela was in conflict, a large majority of the film was shot in Cidade Alta, a different favela within Rio. During the production, slumlords did not allow for the production company to have their own security, so local security guards were hired for the safety of the set.

Lund and Meirelles filmed the short film Golden Gate as a test run while casting for City of God was in the initial stages.


Box office

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 2003, with over 3.1 million tickets sold, and a gross of R$18.6 million ($10.3 million). The film grossed over $7.5 million in the U.S. and over US$30.5 million worldwide.

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, City of God has an approval rating of 91% based on reviews from 163 critics, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The website's consensus reads, "City of God offers a shocking and disturbing—but always compelling—look at life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 79 out of 100 based on 33 critic reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Colin Kennedy from Empire awarded the film a full 5 out of 5 stars, comparing it favorably to Goodfellas and writing in his review, "At once a laboratory for cinema technique and a victory for raw heart, this is a snot-nosed, blood-stained masterpiece. If you see even one or two better movies this year, you will be very lucky indeed." In 2008, the magazine chose City of God as the 177th best film of all time.

Film critic Roger Ebert awarded the film 4 stars out of 4, writing in his review, "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."

Filmmaker Robert Altman stated, "I don't know how Fernando Meirelles made City Of God. It's so courageous, so truthful. I think it's the best picture I've ever seen". Meirelles himself cited Altman's work as an influence on his own career.

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 LA Weekly wrote that " 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".

Ivana Bentes, a Brazilian film critic, criticised the film for its depiction of the favela and her view that it glorified issues of poverty and violence as means of "domestication of the most radical themes of culture and Brazilian cinema ... as products for export." Bentes targets the film specifically in saying that: "City of God promotes tourism in hell".

City of God was ranked No.3 in Film4's "50 Films to See Before You Die", and No.7 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010. It was also ranked No.6 on The Guardian's list of "the 25 Best Action Movies Ever". It was ranked No.1 in Paste magazine's 50 best movies of the decade of the 2000s. Time listed it as one of the 100 greatest films of all time.

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

Top ten lists

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

  • 2nd – Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) (for 2002)
  • 2nd – The Charlotte Observer (Lawrence Toppman)
  • 2nd – Chicago Tribune (Marc Caro)
  • 4th – New York Post (Jonathan Foreman)
  • 4th – Time (Richard Corliss)
  • 5th – Portland Oregonian (Shawn Levy)
  • 7th – Chicago Tribune (Michael Wilmington)
  • 10th – The Hollywood Reporter (Michael Rechtshaffen)
  • 10th – New York Post (Megan Lehmann)
  • 10th – The New York Times (Stephen Holden)

It is ranked No.38 on the BBC list of best 100 films of the 21st century.

MV Bill's response

Brazilian rapper MV Bill, a resident of Cidade de Deus, said the film had "brought no good to the favela, no social, moral, or human benefit." He said, "The world will know that they exploited the image of the children who live here in Cidade de Deus. What is obvious is that they are going to carry a bigger stigma throughout their lives; it has only become greater because of the film.": 123

Awards and nominations

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

Academy AwardsBest DirectorFernando MeirellesNominated
Best Adapted ScreenplayBráulio MantovaniNominated
Best CinematographyCésar CharloneNominated
Best Film EditingDaniel RezendeNominated
AFI FestAudience AwardWon
Broadcast Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmNominated
British Academy Film AwardsBest EditingDaniel RezendeWon
Best Foreign FilmAndrea Barata Ribeiro, Mauricio Andrade Ramos,
Fernando Meirelles
British Independent Film AwardsBest Foreign Independent FilmWon
Chicago Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmWon
Golden Globe AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmNominated
Golden Trailer AwardsBest Independent Foreign FilmWon
Grande Prêmio do Cinema BrasileiroBest FilmWon
Best DirectorFernando MeirellesWon
Best Adapted ScreenplayBráulio MantovaniWon
Best CinematographyCésar CharloneWon
Best EditingDaniel RezendeWon
Best SoundGuilherme Ayrosa, Paulo Ricardo Nunes,
Alessandro Laroca, Alejandro Quevedo, Carlos Honc,
Roland Thai, Rudy Pi, Adam Sawelson
Best ActorLeandro FirminoNominated
Best ActressRoberta RodriguesNominated
Best Supporting ActorJonathan HaagensenNominated
Best Supporting ActorDouglas SilvaNominated
Best Supporting ActressAlice BragaNominated
Best Supporting ActressGraziela MorettoNominated
Best Art DirectionTulé PeakNominated
Best Costume DesignBia Salgado, Inês SalgadoNominated
Best MakeupAnna Van SteenNominated
Best SoundtrackAntonio Pinto, Ed CôrtesNominated
Independent Spirit AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmFernando MeirellesNominated
Las Vegas Film Critics Society AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmWon
Motion Picture Sound EditorsBest Sound Editing in a Foreign FilmMartín Hernández, Roland N. Thai, Alessandro LarocaWon
New York Film Critics Circle AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmWon
Prism AwardsBest Theatrical FilmWon
Satellite AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmWon
Southeastern Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmWon
Toronto Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmWon
Toronto International Film FestivalVisions Award – Special CitationWon


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

  • "Alvorada" (Cartola / Carlos Cachaça / Herminio B. Carvalho) – Cartola
  • "Azul Da Cor Do Mar" (Tim Maia) – Tim Maia
  • "Dance Across the Floor" (Harry Wayne Casey / Ronald Finch) – Jimmy Bo Horne
  • "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" (James Brown / Bobby Byrd / Ronald R. Lenhoff) – James Brown
  • "Hold Back the Water" (Randy Bachman / Robin Bachman / Charles Turner) – Bachman–Turner Overdrive
  • "Hot Pants Road" (Charles Bobbit / James Brown / St Clair Jr Pinckney) – The J.B.'s
  • "Kung Fu Fighting" (Carl Douglas) – Carl Douglas
  • "Magrelinha" (Luiz Melodia) – Luiz Melodia
  • "Metamorfose Ambulante" (Raul Seixas) – Raul Seixas
  • "Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda" (Hyldon) – Hyldon
  • "Nem Vem Que Não Tem" (Carlos Imperial) – Wilson Simonal
  • "O Caminho Do Bem" (Sérgio / Beto / Paulo) – Tim Maia
  • "Preciso Me Encontrar" (Candeia) – Cartola
  • "So Very Hard to Go" (Emilio Castillo / Stephen M. Kupka) – Tower of Power


In an interview with Slant Magazine, Meirelles states he had met with Brazil's former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva who told him about the impact the film has had on both policies and public security within the country. The film has also sparked major increase in film productions, with over 45 being done during 2002. Films such as The Motorcycle Diaries and The Intruder are some of the films which have used Brazil for film production.

The 2013 documentary City of God – 10 Years Later reunites the cast and crew of City of God and takes a look at how their lives have changed after the original film's release. In a BBC article written at the time of the documentary's release, Firmino mentions that the cast had mixed careers after the film's release. Firmino says that Jefechander Suplino, who played Clipper, could not be found by the documentary producers. His mother, however, believes him to still be alive, but is unaware of his whereabouts. Seu Jorge, who played Knockout Ned, had a better career after the film and became a major musician, performing at the London 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony.

Around 40,000 people visit Rocinha (the most tourist-friendly of Rio's favelas) per year making it the fourth most visited "attraction" in Rio.