Sunday, 6 October 2013

This review was originally published on The Film Pilgrim on 10th August 2011. As that site has now disappeared from the internet, I'll be re-publishing my reviews and features, staggered over the next few weeks. This one may need a bit of cultural context - I saw the film on the same day as the 2011 Manchester riots...

Release date (UK) – 12th August 2011
Certificate (UK) – 18
Runtime – 115 minutes
Director – José Padilha
Country – Brazil
Starring – Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, André Ramiro, Milhem Cortaz, André Mattos, Maria Ribeiro

Rio de Janeiro. A city swarmed by crime and disorder, horribly violent, with no-one sure who to trust. Sorry, not Rio, Manchester – but I was safe inside a cinema watching Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within. This is a follow-up to 2007’s Elite Squad, which followed the drug-busting operations of BOPE, the military police of Rio de Janeiro, and the life of BOPE captain Roberto Nascimento (Moura). It was a critical and commercial success in its home country and it’s no surprise that a sequel has been produced. 

The Enemy Within moves the action from 1997 to the present day. Now a colonel, Nascimento is in charge of dealing with a prison break out. When this ends in a massacre, human rights activist Diogo Fraga (Santos) pressures the politicians to discharge Nascimento, but his hard-hitting tactics have earned public appeal and he instead finds himself promoted to a position in the Intelligence Secretariat. From here, Nascimento seeks to use his influence to control BOPE and crack down on crime, but finds himself embroiled in a culture of police corruption. His personal life is also explored in the plot; Nascimento is growing distant from his son and is bitter at his ex-wife (Ribeiro) for marrying Fraga. 

Elite Squad 2’s portrayal of the crime and corruption rife in Rio de Janeiro is shocking. Dirty cop Rocha (Sandro Rocha) makes pacts with drug dealers and instils fear with his militia, murdering those who fail to pay him protection money – inspired by true cases of Rio’s police corruption, this puts accepting a free spa break into perspective. Meanwhile, safe in their luxury yachts, politicians like Legislator Fortunato (André Mattos) and Governor Gelino (Julio Adrião) plot to do whatever necessary to maximise their power. Many characters have their own elements of the storyline, but it is Nascimento’s narration that binds everything together. This means that his point of view is prioritised above the others and, therefore, the first half of the film gives off a worrying sense of glorification of right-wing policing. Nascimento is applauded as a hero by his fellow officers after he has orchestrated the jailhouse massacre, while his narration expresses his utter dislike of left-wing intellectuals like Fraga, who he believes are wrongly letting criminals off by granting them human rights. Nevertheless, this all comes together by the end of the film, as Nascimento is led to question his loyalties and actions, kicked off by a particularly emotional scene in which his son Rafa tells him “I’m not like you, I don’t enjoy hitting people”. 

While the exploration of the police characters is excellent, it would perhaps be nice to have seen the characters on the street, living in the crime-infested community, fleshed out a little more, in order to push the film away from being an action thriller and more towards the wide ranging political exposé it aspires to be, as well as adding to the emotional impact of Major Rocha’s brutality. 

Rio de Janeiro is shot artistically and effectively; young cinematographer Lula Carvalho takes the viewer on an exciting and gritty ride through Rio’s favelas with vérité-style camerawork which adds a sense of realism to the chaotic scenes. At points, the fast camera movements can render the action confusing, but with the film’s message about the out of control situation, this may be purposeful. Padilha’s direction is solid and he shows strong storytelling ability, though one or two comic relief moments, such as a militiaman unknowingly referencing Shakespeare while removing the teeth from a skull, seem out of place and unnecessary. 

The sense of realism is added to by a range of well-judged performances. Nascimento is more mature and rounded than in the first film, shown by the interaction with his son and development of his family relationships, and Wagner Moura pulls off this performance brilliantly. Many of the supporting cast also make lasting impressions, particularly André Ramiro, reprising his role as the determined and moral-minded Captain Matthias. 

Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within is far from easy watching, but is an expertly made portrayal of a society plagued by corruption as well as a thrilling, uncompromisingly gritty action experience and a recommended watch for anyone interested in world cinema.

So where is director José Padilha today? Well, he's helmed the upcoming RoboCop reboot. Let's hope he can reproduce the great urban thriller style he showed here and cross it with the brilliant satire of Verhoeven's original to create a film that can really overcome fans' scepticism.


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