August 25, 2003
By Jamie Russell
Imagine if the kids of "City of God" lived beyond the age of fifteen and became everyday citizens. Now imagine if Quentin Tarantino was Brazilian.
The result might be "Man of the Year", the debut feature from director José Henrique Fonseca, that opens with so much ballsy attitude and stylish verve that you could be forgiven for thinking you were about to watch not only the man, but one of the films of the year.
OK, hands up, "Man of the Year" doesn't turn out to be quite that good, but it's still an impressive debut feature.
After losing a bet in his local bar, Maiquel (Murilo Benicio) gets his hair dyed blond. Showing off his new barnet to his drinking buddies, he takes some stick from a local lowlife, who asks him outside for a fight. One thing leads to another and Maiquel shoots the guy dead.
So, a trip to jail for Mr Blond?
In Rio de Janeiro, life is cheap and bullets are cheaper.
The cops congratulate Maiquel on getting rid of a scumbag thief and before he knows what's happening, this unemployed car salesman has become a vigilante for hire whose progress attracts the attention of a group of right-wing fanatics eager to clean up the streets.
All Maiquel wanted was a job, a wife and a family. Now he's got a string of corpses on his conscience, a piglet (don't ask), and two women battling over which one gets to marry him.
Stylishly shot, brilliantly acted and completely over-the-top, "Man of the Year" may run out of steam in its third act, but its still one heckuva a journey through Rio De Janeiro's seedy underbelly and one man's slow but sure corruption. Like a sucker punch to the gut, it's vigorous and direct enough to suggest Fonesca may well be a director to watch.
--Jamie Russell/ BBC - Review
By Phil Villarreal
If "City of God" is Brazil's answer to "The Godfather," then "The Man of the Year" is Rio's "GoodFellas."
Director José Henrique Fonseca erects another foreboding pillar in Brazil's burgeoning gangster film genre with his speedball of a crime flick. "The Man of the Year" shoves the viewer on a wild, backward and blindfolded luge through Rio's sinister streets, mixing equal parts of mob intrigue, love drama and comedy blacker than Brazilian coffee.
Fonseca, who heaps energetic South American verve and voluminous social commentary on his Martin Scorsese influences, leaves the viewer woozy, punch-drunk and most importantly, buzzed and thirsty for more.
Similar to Scorsese's "GoodFellas," in which Ray Liotta's Henry Hill narrates his regular-guy descent into mob hell, "The Man of the Year" follows Máiquel (Murilo Benício), who speaks in a lamenting, after-the-fact voice-over as he slips into the role of a contract killer. Unlike Hill, whose life ambition was to become a made man, Máiquel's descent comes against his will, which is slowly eroded by dirty bankrolls and the emerging senses of fear and respect he notices throughout the beaten-down community.
In a society plagued by inflation, rampant crime and corrupt cops - a society in which you can't even trust the neighborhood clergy - Máiquel seems to reason, a hired gun is as honorable a profession as any.
We stick with Máiquel as he descends into moral abandon because he's such a good fella, once you get past all the killing, manipulating and adultery. OK, maybe he isn't so good a fella, but at least he starts out that way, before he's romanced and poisoned by the underworld. And he shows enough shades of good-guy sensibility and conscience-pounding hesitation to help us identify with him throughout.
When we first meet Máiquel, he's an upright, if overly macho, too-rare member of middle class that stands between the masses of poor and the rich elite. He dyes his hair blond on a bet, and the new 'do draws him static from a bar thug, who bags on his lack of masculinity. The furious Máiquel can't let such an insult fly, especially not in front of his girl, Cledir (Cláudia Abreu), and kills the man in cold blood. Érica (Natália Lage), the murdered man's girlfriend, clings to Máiquel afterward and insists he care for her.
If this were an American movie, the rest of the film might be about Máiquel's run from the authorities, but this is Brazil, where the top officers are all on the take from the warring mobs, who really control everything. The only arrestable crime seems to be not having your bribe in on time.
Corvalho (Jorge Dória), a kingpin who moonlights as a dentist, reads about Máiquel's exploits in the paper, has him brought in and asks Máiquel to kill the man who raped his 17-year-old daughter.
It doesn't take much to ignite Máiquel's hidden passion. Soon he's checking in daily for the next assignment and looking on like a captivated son as the misogynistic Corvalho regales him with Andrew Dice Clay-style rants about the evils of women.
Against his boss's advice, Máiquel reluctantly marries the pregnant Cledir. The marriage doesn't stop him from starting an affair with Érica, whose midriff tattoo of a scorpion serves as an unheeded warning. The hit-man day job has got nothing on the cutthroat danger of Máiquel's home life.
"The Man of the Year" leaves little doubt about where its story is headed, but the tale is told with such panache and vigor that it keeps us leaning forward in our seats anyway. Máiquel could spurn his sordid life of crime at any time, but that we want Máiquel to continue to taste the dark side - and we want to taste it through him - is a testament to the film's seductiveness.
--Phil Villarreal/ Arizona Daily Star - Review