City of Men

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
City of Men Movie Poster Image
Powerful melodrama mixes violence, messages.
  • R
  • 2008
  • 110 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Young gangsters take up combat and retaliation, essentially without any oversight by urban authorities or parents; in fact, most adults are either gangsters themselves, ex-cons, or victims. The film does differentiate between gangsters showing moral development (and seeking escape from the cycle) and those who only want to commit more mayhem.


Violence is both casual and explicit. Kids wrestle and fight in playful ways but also engage in brutal behavior that includes beatings, combat-style shootouts, and ambushes in the city streets (with automatic weapons, from rooftops, hiding in alleys), as well as point-blank shooting. Wounded victims are bloody. Repeated images of kids with guns. When Ace is given his first gun, he's excited -- then he witnesses a shootout and won't fire his weapon. A boy learns that his father shot a friend's father in the back.


Women appear in bikinis and skimpy clothing (sometimes showing cleavage) on the beach and during street/rooftop parties. Brief blurry sex images in a bed (movement shown but figures not explicit). Ace has sex with various women at his workplace (he's a security guard); there are brief images of them on his lap and some kissing. Wallace flirts with his girlfriend; he also tells a story about a girl seducing him.


Multiple uses of "f--k" (some with "mother"), "s--t," and "damn," as well as "hell," "prick," "p---y," and "ass" (some with "hole"). All language is in subtitles.



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and cigarette smoking at a bar; some gang members smoke marijuana several times. Someone wears a T-shirt that says "Tequila."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the main characters in this subtitled drama are young (some don't look older than 10), impoverished gangsters in Rio de Janeiro who commit frequent acts of bloody violence. Along with wrestling and fighting, there's shooting (with both handguns and automatic weapons), standoffs, and ambushes in the streets; one gang burns down a woman's house because she's related to an enemy. There are several sex scenes, but they're brief and blurry (movement is obvious, but nudity is muted). Girls wear bikinis on the beach, and boys comment on their looks. Language includes frequent uses of "f--k" and other profanity. Characters smoke cigarettes and marijuana and drink liquor.

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What's the story?

Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha) have been best friends since childhood. When, at the start of CITY OF MEN, Wallace is about to turn 18, they embark on a journey of discovery, tracking down their fathers and confronting their violent legacies. At the same time, they're immersed in the gang warfare that plagues their slum as cousins clash and Wallace's new girlfriend, Camila (Naima Silva), worries about her brother's fate. Both boys have to make difficult choices, Wallace concerning his newfound father and Ace about his own toddler, left in his care when his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Cris (Camila Monteiro), leaves for Sao Paolo.

Is it any good?

City of Men is an affecting blend of action movie, coming-of-age tale, and family melodrama. It's billed as a companion piece to Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund's brilliant, thrilling City of God, which was an art-house sensation when it came to the United States in 2002. The new film actually draws from characters developed in that film's inspiration, the mesmerizing, same-named Brazilian TV series -- which explains how City of Men is able to include scenes of Ace and Wallace as kids. These images show how their friendship has endured during years of bouncing around in impoverished neighborhoods where boys become men by wielding guns and claiming territory.

While Paulo Morelli's movie isn't as kinetic as City of God, it offers an equally fascinating look at kids' emotional lives and moral choices and their struggles to think beyond their apparent fates. Ace's anxieties about fathering are reflected in Wallace's reunion with his own dad; quickly enamored of the idea of having a father, Wallace imagines an existence apart from the gangs -- just as long-simmering tensions erupt into full-on street battles. The kids on the periphery, like Ace and Wallace, are trapped. Equipped with artillery and hand-drawn maps, the teams take over the alleys and rooftops as civilians hide. But for all its tragedy and brutality, City of Men is shaped by the uneven, difficult rhythms of fathers and sons and the boys' determination to connect across years of pain and legacies of revenge.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's messages. What is it saying about the criteria -- aside from chronology -- that make someone an adult? How do Wallace and Ace learn to be good "men"? Does the film offer hope that the friends can escape from the violence of their childhoods? Do you think that's an accurate reflection of real life?

Movie details

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For kids who love foreign dramas

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