City of God (2002 film)

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", a proverb analogous to the English "Damned if you do, damned if you don't".

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.

Other Languages
български: Градът на Бога
Ελληνικά: Η πόλη του Θεού
emiliàn e rumagnòl: City of God
español: Ciudad de Dios
Esperanto: Cidade de Deus
Fiji Hindi: City of God
Bahasa Indonesia: City of God (film 2002)
italiano: City of God
Кыргызча: Кудай кенти
Bahasa Melayu: Filem City of God
Nederlands: Cidade de Deus
polski: Miasto Boga
русский: Город Бога
slovenčina: Mesto bohov
slovenščina: Božje mesto
српски / srpski: Божји град (филм)
Türkçe: Tanrı Kent
українська: Місто Бога