Sunday, 23 August 2020

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2002: Leandro Firmino in City of God

Leandro Firmino did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Li'l Zé in City of God.

City of God is the excellent film that follows the lives of children as they become young men in a slum.

One of the risks City of God takes is that  director Fernando Meirelles used almost entirely a cast of non-professional actors. I'll say this is always a risk, and often times even when it is successful there can be certain sort of traits of such an ensemble. This even in better ones there can be some very obvious off-moments, or more often sort of a lack of risk taking within the performances. City of God is notable then, in that I wouldn't have guessed this cast, other than the child performers I suppose, were non-professional from the start, and even with the child actors I wouldn't have been surprised if they had prior experience. The film lacks any of those qualities within the cast. Now the film is largely an ensemble, the pseudo lead is Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), who we see go from a child to an adult trying to make it as a photographer. His story is very much parallel to the more tumultuous action, where he typically is only an observer of the criminal underworld of the slum. Within the underworld there is a vast array of characters we find, some with little vignettes many with more. The one with the strongest perspective being Li'l Zé, who we first meet as an overly ambitious child criminal. A child criminal who cuts his teeth by committing a robbery and even killing/leading to the deaths of sort of the old guard of wannabe hoods. This switching over to his adult life, in turn switching from the child actor Douglas Silva to Leandro Firmino, in a particularly memorable montage of Li'l's coup de grace's on his victims as he ages into the fierce gang leader who will dictate so much of the story going forward. 

Firmino opens with that image of his face already of a performer you wouldn't guess that this is first film. This in the confidence in a sense of portraying the overt psychopathy in the moment of his smile brimming with glee. This portraying L'il as a man who doesn't shoot for the sake of it, he shoots for the love of it. We find L'il quickly making massive expansion as it jumps into the young adult lives of the central characters, where L'il Zé and his more balanced partner Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), have almost completely taken over the slums in terms of the criminal underworld. Firmino's performance again suggests such a strict confidence that is ideal for L'il as we see him as a man in the criminal world. This both in the ease he brings to the threats of violent L'il will so easily dispense with a human life if he decides he needs to or he for the fun of it, but also through the sense of the man as a boss in the criminal underworld. Firmino speaks with that same ease as he commands one thing another. I particularly love his bravado when he acts more like a king than a gangster when letting someone go, or making a particular grandiose declaration. Firmino brings the right bluster in granting the sense of this delusion of grandeur within L'il Zé who believes himself to be more than just a criminal within the slum, but rather this lord of it whose laws must be obeyed. This in a particularly horrifying scene where Li'l orders the shooting and killing of a few child thieves he feels has broken his orders for the slum. Again Firmino's performance creates a chilling quality in the manner in which Li'l so easily speaks his order, but even more so does it as though he is treating the situation like he is punishing a trespasser not ordering the death of a child. Their unopposed reign leads Benny to expand his horizons while L'il stays the same, and here Firmino excels in showing a different side to the man, in his complete failure to thrive outside of the criminal life. This as we see, by Benny's mocking, his first attempt to try to pick up a woman. Firmino is excellent in the moment by bringing a hint of vulnerability as makes these attempts. This in his eyes suggesting a genuine desire but also important hesitation of a man who really doesn't know what to do, but wants to do. When rejected though he doesn't deal with it, or attempt to better himself, we rather see the worst of L'il again. This in Firmino portraying the man falling upon what he knows in violence and again with the needed visceral edge to the sheer cruelty of the man. This again we a zero sense of remorse within his murders of others in his quest that soon becomes a rivalry about his failures with women as it does his actual criminal enterprise. Even in this downward spiral he effective balances the sides of the man, this in the moments of reminded of his inadequacy with find just the humorless killer, however whenever given the change to prop himself up based on his criminal work, we see such joy within Firmino's work. A man portraying this unearned pride in every moment to the point of loving to pose for pictures as though he is an egotistical celebrity rather than a brutal killer. Firmino's work here is one of the greatest successes of the film's risk regarding its casting. You'd never second guess his work here, as he gives a wholly captivating portrayal of tyrant, though a tyrant of a slum.


Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings and thoughts on the cast.

Come on Plummer.

Bryan L. said...

I am happy about this :D

Louis: Thoughts on the direction, screenplay, cinematography and editing?

Anonymous said...

This bodes very well for Plummer I think.

Mitchell Murray said...

Okay...I'm definitely checking this film out at some point.

Louis: What would be your top 10 favourite performances from non professional actors?

Calvin Law said...

Seu Jorge is still my favourite of the cast but I’m definitely digging Firmino’s perfomance the more I think about it. Also, poor Benny.

Firmino is sadly one of the few from this film who’s continued onto being an actor. There’s some very sad things I’ve read about what happened to many of the rest of the cast.

Michael McCarthy said...

I just saw this for the first time a few weeks ago and was really taken aback with how much I loved it.

Also, can we talk about the fact that the kid playing Thiago was like...LITERALLY Ginger Timothèe Chalamet?

Louis Morgan said...


Thought the same exact thing.

Lucas Saavedra said...

Louis: how well do you think Adam Sandler would do in the role of Donnie Azoff (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Jason Statham as Otto West?

Louis Morgan said...


Silva - 3.5(Obviously has a lot less screentime than Firmino though definitely leaves a striking impression in the confidence he brings as a young child. What's even more notable is that he is genuinely terrifying as well in portraying that same joy of the kill in his scenes.)

Haagensen - 3.5(Brings a nice charisma to his role and is particularly good as this contrast to Firmino in his work. His performance though brings the right sense of sort of the complication of being the gangster with this almost unassuming quality as though it is a job for him, and treating L'il with almost a bemused understanding of his friend/psychopath and technical partner. In his interactions he finds the right sort of complication though in granting a sense of real affection for the psychopath even as his eyes also sense the sort of near bemusement over the hardwired nature of him.)

Nachtergaele - 3.5(Brings the right sort of aged "wisdom" within the character as though he is playing on a different type of wavelength than his younger competition. This though with the right bluntness of his delivery as a man able of the same violence yet less inclined to do it outside of business.)

Jorge - 4(Brings the right sort of stoic charm within his performance in the early scenes granting basically the right "cool" to the character. This though as this dissolution of it in his brewing conflict. This that he initially presents well as an emotional strain than changes to revenge based conviction. This though in portraying well the compromises of the character within a man who creates a narrow minded focus in himself.)


I will saw Fernando Meirelles's direction here was perhaps just the heaven's match in terms of director and material. This as his choices aren't really alien to his overall less successful films in The Two Popes and the Constant Gardener. There are actually similar choices in some regards however here they all just work so well for the nature of the story. This in his rather expansive style, that kind of loves the loose end, is fantastic here in breathing life towards the idea of the city in the way he touches towards the characters even as it builds some central ideas. The same is true in his very kinetic approach, specific choices I feel Danny Boyle aped poorly in his best picture winner, that delivers that narrative thrust here so effectively. It is a film that creates this real sense of life, that importantly, most importantly, shows burden with joy, tragedy with comedy as Meirelles creates that greater sense of life not a one note quality that is always so often film with the same basic subject matter. It creates the horror of scene like the child murder, but at the same time a real sense of joy in the first half of Benny's party. Meirelles's work balances it beautifully to create a stunning epic.

Louis Morgan said...

The screenplay of course is as essential in creating that compelling narrative. This in creating the template for Meirelles to build from as he did. This in creating this sort of pockets of interest, just as it builds the central narrative of the artist and the criminal and their different sort of rising. There is nothing basic within that though as it realizes that in such detail, again detail that grants the story more than a singular tone. It shows the sense of the life building within each of these characters, and granting those side vignettes so to speak as well. This again that truly creates a City of God, while also using the central narrative to create the proper thrust that keeps the film from becoming too unwieldy within that expansive approach. It manages to balance an overarching examination with a real sense of the personal.

Honestly to rag on Slumdog a bit more I think Boyle told Mantle to copy this film, and then proceeded to fail miserably. This being absolutely exceptional work, this as it doesn't make the slums look pretty, but boy does it make them look vibrant so to speak. Not that there are not overt moments of beauty,t hose beach shots are treasures alone, but it balances the sense of grit, without becoming lazy or ugly. This even with a mix of more "random" and fluid movements. Nothing feel improper to each other, as the film finds the right sense of composition and framing, and most importantly clarity even within the most docudrama moments. Part of that "epic" quality is that it creates both an intimate and grand scale within the shots, and again does so brilliantly. Also extra points for doing yellow well, always easy to screw up, and this film makes it actually invigorate the image, rather than make it look...well ugly yellow.

The editing is outstanding and is one of the most essential elements of the film. This as it realizes its complex narrative in a cohesive way, as every sequence, no matter how many characters, always manages to grant a sense of the scene, and never lose a logical consistency. There is a style within it that is absolutely a risk with some specific montages, and all of these are just effortlessly done. Again this though making this such immensely watchable and fluid experience. The editing working in one of the ways I see as the great edited films, where the best I can say is it just sort of "goes" and takes you along the way in such totally fascinating and unique way.


1. Haing S. Ngor - The Killing Fields
2. Aleksey Kravchenko - Come and See
3. Harold Russell - The Best Years of Our Lives
4. Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
5. R. Lee Ermey - Full Metal Jacket
6. Gary Poulter - Joe
7. Tatum O'Neal - Paper Moon
8. Abraham Attah - Beats of No Nation
9. Victoire Thivisol - Ponette
10. Leandro Firmino - City of God


I could easily Sandler in that part, in fact it isn't in some ways a far cry from Howard Ratner.

Statham I think might have too much cool for Otto, but...I do think he'd work in a reversal of the part based on his work in spy as he can do stupid well.


Hey Louis and whoever is reading this comment!

Taking advantage of the first person debate and film from Brazil, tell me your TOP 10 of the best Brazilian films of all time? Just a warning: Movies like Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) and Blindness (2008) are not on the list because they are not spoken in Portuguese.

PS: Leandro Firmino with 4.5 ... I expected more.

Shaggy Rogers said...

Brazinterma: Are you Brazilian?


Shaggy: Yes, I am. Who has doubts about what Brazinterma means? It's "Brazil and International Movie Awards"

Luke Higham said...

Louis: You've made my day having Kravchenko at #2.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Love his work here. My favorite scene of his performance would probably be his reaction right after Benny's death.

Louis: Your thoughts on Benny's farewell party, and the montage of Knockout Ned slowly losing his moral compass? Those were two of my favorite sequences within the film.

Tim said...

your thoughts on the opening?

Shaggy Rogers said...

Brazinterma: My Top10 of Brazilian films

1. City of God
2. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
3. Central Station
4. Black God, White Devil
5. Bacurau
6. Keeper of Promises
7. The Red Light Bandit
8. Pixote
9. Elite Squad
10. Four Days in September

Calvin Law said...

I watched Central Station recently and was definitely impressed. I’m very confident Montenegro will be Louis’ win.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Yeah, I don't see Montenegro losing especially with Blanchett being the only 4.5 at the moment.

Luke Higham said...

Okay Guys, I've just booked a ticket for Tenet on Wednesday. This is my own personal choice and take full responsibility for myself. Please wish me luck.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: If Chris Hemsworth doesn't top his work as Thor in Infinity War before 2018 Supporting comes round again, could you do a write-up. That's if there isn't enough 4.5+ contenders to make a 5 aside from Franky and Pryce.

Anonymous said...

Luke, with 2017 Supporting being fairly weak, is there anyone you'd like to see get a write-up.

Mitchell Murray said...

Luke: I certainly wouldn't mind seeing that, even though I think Brolin is the MVP of "Infinity War".

Luke Higham said...

Mitchell: I'd be happy with Brolin too though Hemsworth has a better chance being higher in the ranking.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: This is what I have at the moment.

Tommy Flanagan - The Ballad Of Lefty Brown
Guy Pearce - Brimstone (The most likely not to get in considering it's another villain part which he often struggles with)
Bill Nighy - Their Finest
Shia LaBeouf - Borg Vs McEnroe

I would like to see write-ups of Rylance in Dunkirk (Not a long review sure but it is my favourite film of 2017 and would be nice for it's Cast MVP to get one) and Michael Keaton in Spider-Man: Homecoming (re-watched it lately and Keaton's my favourite MCU villain performance)

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Luke: Stay safe, and hope you enjoy Tenet :)

RatedRStar said...

Luke: Long as you've got your mask it shouldn't be any problem, good luck =D.

RatedRStar said...

Luke: Ill be desperate to get your thoughts and ratings when you come back lol since I am curious about the reviews that have come out so far.

Luke Higham said...

RatedRStar: Don't worry I will, I'm well used to it by now.

Honestly, I'm not sure if I'll give ratings at first because you need multiple viewings to wholly understand everything.

Just to be fair, I'll give everyone a rating from bad to amazing.

Bryan L. said...

Luke: Good luck and have fun!

Also, have...have I redeemed myself with this Firmino request? :)

Luke Higham said...

Bryan: Was McQueen your last reviewed request. If so, there isn't really anything to be redeemed for since it was still interesting enough.

Luke Higham said...

I feel more regret about Claflin since there was little to write about.

Bryan L. said...

Luke: Yeah that was my last one. I did change my ‘02 Lead request to Paxton, but I knew he was going to get reviewed either way (just wanted to guarantee him a spot lol).

Luke Higham said...

Guys, I could only imagine how painful it'll be to possibly miss out seeing Tenet on the big screen. I deeply regret not seeing Return Of The King when it was first released, especially the Pelennor Fields battle.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Louis: What do you think of this clip of Burton’s Hamlet from 1964? Specifically Cronyn as Polonius.

Louis Morgan said...


Benny's party is great, and part of why I loved the film in that scene. This as we get a real joy for so many moments of the film. Brilliantly directed, as the music isn't just noise but brings us into the vibrancy of the party. It is genuinely fun, even as it cuts to L'il on the edge and slowly builds towards that confrontation/tragedy. The scene captures so well moments of joy, with the camera gift, but finally tragedy in the ending. Also song choices, are just perfect.

Knockout Ned's moral compass scene is great, in again we get sort of his criminal story quickly, yet succinctly. Setting up brilliantly a key payoff, and character switch, really so artfully and effortlessly.


I actually think the flashback setup isn't always a great choice, and can be overused. This is a great example of it though. This as it gives us a feel for the kinetic drive of the film, checking in with an idea of the future, but actually not giving anything away for future scenes. You know something will happen, but have no idea what or why. It though completely grips you into wanting to find out.

Louis Morgan said...


Well I have to say that is an interesting match-up of actors. Burton, though someone I've changed my perspective overall of his film work over the years, definitely seems he was ideal for the theatrical form, both in style and that voice of his. He doesn't disappoint there in doing more levity based mad Hamlet, playing to the crowd in a way, Hamlet. I have to say though I love Cronyn's wholly comic approach Polonius, who can often be a bore. Cronyn's a genuine hoot in the scene by playing it as a comedic straight man, and honestly didn't know the scene could be played in quite that way. Doesn't entirely differently than usual, and its great.