City of God is 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.. really?

So I’m working my way through the list of The Decade’s 25 Most Essential Foreign Films and I just watched City of God today, well, half of it.

I found the film technically good and well edited, but I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters. I don’t know whether it was the writing or the acting, but I couldn’t relate to any of the characters. Aside from the narrator, they’re all just violent thugs, robbing their way through life without a single redeeming feature among them. I felt nothing as I saw them being killed off, I didn’t feel good nor did I feel bad. The thugs killed and robbed so much, I didn’t feel sympathy when the corrupt cops beat them or killed them.

I’m not asking for a cliche-riddled black-and-white, good guys versus bad guys movie. I just don’t see the point in a bad guys vs bad guys movie where none of the characters appear to have any redeeming features.

Why is this movie rated 92% on Rotten Tomatoes? What have I missed?

To be honest, and no offence, I think that’s exactly what you are looking for.

If you don’t like stories about morally ambiguous characters, you probably won’t particularly enjoy Let The Right One In or Oldboy or Gomorrah… all of those have somewhat flawed protagonists.

(Actually, there may be more on this list which are equally devoid of purely good/bad characters… but I haven’t seen all 25 yet)

I think the political and cultural status quo are the bad guys in this film. You might gain a better understanding of it if you watch the documentary Bus 174.

FWIW, you are not alone in thinking that City Of God was an over-rated (though mildly interesting) indie that got buzz from the critics and was then fawned over by readers of Rolling Stone in an attempt to try and make them look sophisticated and hip…
The Sundance Film Festival is chock full of similar examples, but City Of God just happened to take it to the next level.

I really liked the movie. It showed a slice of life that I never knew existed.

You think wrong. Some of my favourite films and TV shows have morally ambiguous characters such as In Bruges, The Wire, The Shield, Memento, etc.

My point about bad guys is that for them to be interesting, they need to be a mix of grays rather than just pure black. My issue with the City of God characters is that they’re just going through liFe robbing and killing, there is no depth to them, no complexity.

My point is that they’re not morally ambiguous, they’re just one-dimensional. Greedy and murderous.

Incidentally I did watch Oldboy and mostly enjoyed it. My only criticism is that near the end the antagonist was almost too crazy, his punishment of the protagonist seemed far beyond what the protagonist’s actions may or may not have justified.

I’d like to take this opportunity to deride this, what, this *myth *about the requirement of sympathetic characters. Not myth exactly, but someone apparently once said that a story requires a sympathetic character to work as a story, and suddenly there’s this meme that this is some kind of law.

Using that as the sole item on your checklist of critical inquiry falls under the concept of having just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

Before you learn any “rules” of criticism, you should first learn this: there are no rules of criticism.

Sorry if that seems harsh, macaenas, it wasn’t really aimed at you; more at the concept in general. Do yourself a favor: let a movie be what it is, without any preconceptions of what it’s supposed to be. Let City of God just happen, let it tell the story it has to tell. There are plenty of stories, unfortunately–and usually this is kind of their main point–where there are no good guys; no sympathetic characters; everyone involved is doomed.

This might be an interesting topic for a thread, in fact: great–or even good–movies that lack any really sympathetic characters. There are a lot of them.

Sure, that’s sound advice. But…if “the story it has to tell” doesn’t hold your interest, “what it will be” is: returned unfinished.

They’re not one dimensional. Just look at the stark contrast between the two young drug kingpins Benny and Li’l Zé. That Benny can be partners and best friends with the monstrous Zé, yet still be a genuinely hip and loving guy that yearns to rise above and escape the station he’s created for himself defies any mono-dimensional quality. And what about Knockout Ned’s complete decent from an honest hard-working citizen to the captain of thugs in a street war that grinds up children and his city?

And even if the characters were one dimensional, and you’ve no one to identify with (which I don’t agree with - Buscapé/Rocket is our morally centered guide), the film is still excellent because of the richly told and plain informative capturing of people and place through multiple decades. There’s more to chew on in this film than so many others.

I’m not criticizing this movie from a professional standpoint whereby I must adhere to a set of best practice rules. As far as I know you’re 100% correct about criticisms by professionals needing to avoid “myths” or some golden rules about what makes a good story. I don’t care. I’m stating that for me personally, this is what I need for me to enjoy and/or be immersed into what I consider a “good” story. If I can’t find anyway to empathize or identify with characters in a movie then I find it difficult to care about what happens to them. I assumed that others would feel the same way but clearly I’m in the minority, but that doesn’t make my personal preferences “myths”.

So there are no rules of criticism… except don’t disagree with Lissener? :rolleyes:

I agree with the OP, to an extent. I found Zé dull as hell, and that’s not just because he was a sociopath. I’m just fine with sociopathic characters, if they’re funny or impressive or have interesting goals, or if they just give me some reason to care if they’re on screen beyond waiting for them to die.

Having at least some characters you actually care about / like / sympathize with / view with less than utter contempt makes it a whole lot easier to get into a movie. I don’t think he was attempting to declare that all movies must have sympathetic characters, but if they don’t, they better offer something else to engage you in those character’s stories, and it sounds like for him, City of God failed on that front.

FWIW I didn’t think the OP was judging a movie by how well it matched up to a set of personal rules. Rather he didn’t like the film and tried to explain why… and not caring about the characters can be a major problem with a film. It’s not inevitably fatal, but it usually not a good sign.

The rules in Cafe Society are strict: no personal attackson other posters.

And, yes, a sideswipe and a rolleyes are considered personal attacks.

If you wish to disagree with the content of his post, feel free to do so, but leave your personal opinion of lissener out of it.

twickster, Cafe Society moderator

Love the movie, then again I am a big fan of “gangster” movies.

I have to disagree - sure, Lil’ Ze is about as greedy and murderous and one-dimensional as they come, but even he gains a measure of humanity at Benny’s goodbye party (you did get that far, I hope?)

And as drastic_quench points out, there’s at least one character who starts off as anything but greedy and murderous. Knockout Ned’s storyline is downright heartbreaking by the end… though if you didn’t watch all the way through, you probably didn’t catch that part either.

Frankly, I think you did yourself a disservice by giving up rather than watching to the end. To each their own, though.

(and seriously, there’s a very good chance you’ll despise Let The Right One In… if you can’t find someone to connect to in this movie, then you’re totally SOL there)

An arc will sometime just look like a line until you follow it through to the conclusion.

I didn’t get that far to reach either of those 2 events. I think I’ll give it another shot and see what happens.

Thanks for the advice folks.