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'City of Men'

Absent fathers and yearning sons are the subject of City of Men, a sort of thematic follow-up to the Brazilian drama City of God, which chronicled the lives of child-gangsters running riot with guns and drugs in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.

Two young actors who played 11-year-olds in the earlier film now play 17-year-old best friends, who've somehow managed to stay out of the gangs that have compromised the lives of their cousins. Ace (Douglas Silva) is himself a father, albeit a casual one, so easily distracted that he simply forgets his 1-year-old on an afternoon outing to the beach. Wallace (Darlan Cunha) is more serious, intent on tracking down his father, a quest that takes him to the local prison.

Despite their independence from the gangs, the two young men find themselves on opposite sides of a neighborhood war in a film that eschews the documentary-style brutality of City of Men in favor of a soap opera-ish quality — though it's a soap opera in which children have children, machine guns are so prevalent no one blinks when they fire, and 35-year-old grandmothers get burned out of their homes on a whim.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.