Rocket starts the film off recalling a time when the main force of power in the slum were the Tender Trio who, despite being criminals, looked out for the inhabitants of the slum operating in a kind of Robin Hood manner. When they take a young kid called Lil’ Ze under their wing they soon find that they have bitten off more than they could chew as a seemingly simple heist on a motel turns into a massacre meaning the Trio have to go into hiding which diminishes their power as they’re unable to operate as they once did. Whilst this is happening Lil’ Ze builds up a fierce reputation with his close friend until he takes full control of the favela at the age of 18 and it’s from this point on that the majority of the film focuses on as Ze changes his name to Lil’ Dice and rules with zero tolerance and behaves as though morals are an alien concept.
The film frequently uses handheld cameras which add to the immersive nature of the film, it adds to the sense of claustrophobia as the inhabitants of the favela struggle to survive and escape the life of poverty and crime. Some of the camera set ups and techniques deployed truly are spectacular especially considering the film was made on a reasonably limited budget. A fine example that constraints can often inspire creativity.
Around the time of its release; Mereilles found himself compared to the likes of Scorsese and it’s easy to see why as both construct compelling and well made films based on material that on the surface may not appeal to everyone, but when placed in the hands of great filmmakers what on the surface could seem to be downbeat and depressing material can be elevated to a hugely energetic and entertaining film with an important message at its heart.
The acting throughout is of a high standard and never feels anything less than authentic particularly the performances from the child actors many of whom were cast using open auditions in the areas where the film is set.
An aspect of the film that I particularly enjoy is that the use of flashbacks seem to come in brief bursts and end before you have received all of the necessary information which adds to the intrigue of the film and fits in perfectly with the fact that you’re getting one persons version of the key events in the favela over 30 years.
There are times where the film does seem overly stylised however and this is particularly noticeable on repeat viewings; the story at the films heart is a compelling one and there are times where I find myself wishing for moments of calm; although I appreciate that it could be argued that it’s the most effective way of depicting the lives of the inhabitants of the favela on screen.
Despite my minor issue with the film, it’s still a very impressive piece of work and one that I would hugely recommend to anyone that, for some reason, still hasn’t seen.
Film – [Rating:4/5]
Picture wise the Blu-Ray isn’t overly impressive; there are some truly impressive moments however the overall quality of the release is derailed by some wild inconsistencies in the quality of the transfer. There are moments of grain and at times the colour schemes can come off a little odd but it’s difficult to judge from a visual aspect given that different parts of the film are filmed using different techniques and colour schemes to convey different times and perspectives.
The review copy I had started with no subtitles whatsoever so these needed to be manually selected; not a major thing by any means and I’m not sure if this will be the case for the retail release but though it would be worth mentioning. That aside though the audio mix here is the releases greatest strength. Crystal clear sound is present throughout and there are no issues when it comes to the soundtrack intruding on the dialogue. The mix makes effective use of the 5.1 DTS-HD at all the right moments and there are plenty of highlights littered throughout such as the shootouts.
There are two featurettes on the disc; News from a Personal War (55 mins) and A Conversation with Fernando Meirelles (10mins). Both have been available on previous releases, whether it be DVD or region A or European releases of the film on Blu-Ray. The conversation with Meirelles is interesting but the highlight here is without a doubt News From a Personal War which explores the ongoing battle between the Drug Lords and BOPE which includes interviews with involved parties from both sides. It’s the best type of feature in that it gives additional context for the setting of the film and enriches the viewing experience as a result.
It’s by no means a perfect release but it is the best the film has looked and as such fans shouldn’t be too disappointed. Despite aspects of the film not ageing well, it’s still a compelling and incredibly well made film which should be a welcome addition to anyone’s Blu-Ray Collection.
The Disc [Rating:3.5]