Reviewed by Ken Fox

A violent, thoroughly electrifying vision of Rio during the volatile 1970s, and possibly the first great crime film of the 21st century. There's nothing particularly heavenly about the "City of God," a housing development thrown up on Rio's outskirts during the 1960s to help alleviate the homeless overflow from the city's teeming slums. This sprawling suburb of clay-colored matchbox houses, which lacks running water, electricity and paved roads, and is overrun by criminal gangs and an equally dangerous police force, is more like a lawless frontier town in the Old West. Young Rocket (Luis Otavio) dreams of one day escaping, but few ever make it out, and his older brother, Goose (Renato de Souza), was one of the unlucky ones. During the '60s, Goose was part of a small gang of thieves known as the Tender Trio, who got mixed up in a botched motel robbery that ended in a gruesome mass murder; Goose disappeared soon after, never to be seen again. The only surviving member of his gang is Lil' Dice (Douglas Silva), a runty tag-along with big ideas and a vicious gleam in his eye. By the mid-1970s, Lil' Dice, now a scary 18-year-old (Leandro Firmino da Hora) who goes by "Lil' Ze," has taken over most of the neighborhood cocaine trade and keeps the peace by killing off the competition. The only rival dealer Lil' Ze hasn't murdered is Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele), and that's only because Carrot's best friend is Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), Lil' Ze's far more reasonable right-hand man. Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), now 16, has managed hold onto his dream of one day becoming a photographer and leaving the slums, and he knows enough to stay away from the hoods. But the animosity between Lil' Ze and Carrot soon reaches a boiling point, and all-out street war transforms the City of God from an impoverished purgatory into a blood-soaked hell. GOODFELLAS, PULP FICTION, AMORES PERROS, PIXOTE: The comparisons are all apt, but none do justice to the striking originality of a film that opens with a high-speed, guns-blazing chicken chase, and uses a 3/4 split-screen when the conventional shot/countershot just isn't fast enough. Braulio Mantovani's screenplay at first appears to be cobbled together from odd bits of narrative and tangential short stories, but this seemingly haphazard arrangement is actually a tightly woven tapestry of extraordinary breadth, and director Fernando Meirelles's control over the material is astonishing.