director José Padilha
José Padilha’s Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, the sequel to his popular Elite Squad (2007), a film about the Rio law enforcement SWAT team (BOPE) and their brutal, idealistic leader, deepens a further complicates the portrayal of crime and punishment in Brazil’s notorious favelas.
Elite Squad earned some criticism in glorifying or at least endorsing the fascist tactics of the BOPE, led by Wagner Moura as Roberto Nascimento, the squad’s morally dedicated and desiccated leader. In the first film, the squad is the only uncorrupt and uncorruptible force in a system of massive criminality and cops “on the take”. All criminals, even college students smoking joints, are seen as part of the problem and due harsh punishment as such. This ideology and dialog is explicit in the film, though I thought open for aspects of interpretation.
In Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, Padilha moves Nascimento into government and politics, the result of another distastefully violent and brutal outcome of a prison riot that his team quelled with bullets despite the left-wing pacifist intervention trying to come to less bloody terms. In moving into higher up echelons in the system, Nascimento hopes to make greater strides for his fight against crime. But he finds that politics has made for some hypocritical and ruthless bedfellows and the corruption of Rio’s state is rife to the top.
The story is a bit facile, with Nascimento’s ex-wife having married his political foil, the liberal spokesman for defense of the poor. But it gives Padilha a handy structure upon which to hang his complicated portrait of the realities of crime in Brazil. Whether fascist police take down the criminals or not, the rich and well-connected only care about maintaining power, not about the lives of anybody in the slums or out.
It’s a good, rather complex political and action thriller, certainly above the usual levels of thought and polemics. I thought its complexity made it more interesting but also muddied the film from a pure narrative standpoint. Comparatively, that is, to the first film. Still, very good. Pretty interesting stuff.