For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Latin Directors, here’s a review of Elite Squad by Justine of Justine’s Movie Blog
Thanks again to Anna of Film Grimoire for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by James of Back to the Viewer. We will be reviewing our favorite movies featuring a dystopian world (past or future). Please get me your submissions by 25th April by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org Try to think out of the box! Great choice James!
Let’s see what Justine thought of this movie
Brazilian director José Padilha may be more widely known for his recent attempt at a Hollywood reboot, RoboCop. I admit I still hadn’t bothered to watch the film, because…well, Hollywood reboots generally suck. I had read, though, that he was frustrated with the lack of creative control he had over the film. Welcome to Hollywood, José! But before he was taking part in one of the many Hollywood bastardizations of a classic ’80s flick, he was making passion projects focused on his interest in politics, crime and corruption in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro. One of these films was Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, a sequel to his 2007 film, aptly named Elite Squad.
While the first film was a financial and critical success that founded him international recognition, the second film is a much more intelligent and mature work all around, garnering mostly positive reviews and currently holds the record as the highest domestic grossing film at the box office in Brazil. It also works very well as a stand alone movie, meaning you don’t have to watch the first one to understand the second.
On the surface, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, might look like the type of film similar to action movies like S.W.A.T., you know, that mostly watchable, but semi-stupid movie with Colin Farrell. But really, it’s closer to the level of The Departed. It is an intelligent crime thriller and has a carefully crafted story exhibiting corruption that travels from the lowest levels of society all the way to the very top. It’s not overloaded with action, but it is quickly paced and you have to pay close attention to keep up. The main character, Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) provides narration throughout the film, which could be a little distracting at times especially if you don’t speak Portuguese and are forced to read large text packed with subtitles, but the movie can mostly speak for itself through the visuals and dialogue between characters.
Nascimento is a Lieutenant Colonel in BOPE (Special Police Operations Squad, the equivalent of a SWAT team in the States). After a prison riot ends badly, resulting in the death of a gang leader, human rights activists speak out and spark widespread media attention, resulting in Nascimento being removed from his position in BOPE. However, because the people of Rio de Janeiro, who are fed up with the crime rates in their city, refer to Nascimento as a hero, he is promoted to Undersecretary of Public Safety for Intelligence. With his new position, he rids the slums of the drug gangs that plague them, hoping to bring down the system altogether. However, this backfires and he ends up creating an opening for dirty cops and corrupt politicians to take advantage of the poor, creating their own criminal organization rooted in violence and intimidation.
The Enemy Within is about a man who doesn’t give a crap about a criminal’s human rights, he cares about justice being brought down upon those who believe they are above the law. These aren’t qualities that are easy to work with, however, since the media and human rights activists—one of them being his ex wife’s new husband—are constantly trying to keep everything he does in check, resulting in typical left vs. right conflicts on top of everything else. It’s an edge-of-your-seat kind of experience when you realize that his real enemies are working just down the hall from him. He only has to piece together the puzzle to figure out just how far up the corruption goes.
This isn’t a movie with a ton of action or a lot of gratuitous violence. Yes, there is action and some violence, and when they do play out, they are genuinely exciting to watch. Padilha puts you right into the scene in stylishly shot sequences that are sure to entertain fans of the genre. But this is not what I’d consider an action movie. It’s still a thrilling ride, though, if you’re paying attention as the drama unfolds and our eyes are opened to the actions of a complex system and all of its players. It’s somewhat humorous to see just how quickly Nascimento’s plans backfire. In the end, even he is forced to admit that beating the system is nearly impossible. If you’re lucky, you can only cut off a couple of heads, but more will always grow back in their place.
José Padilha has given us a smart film dealing with crime and corruption on a large scale. The action sequences are great, but not overbearing, and the performances are solid. It’s quickly paced and packs a punch. The narration is a little distracting and probably unnecessary, but it’s easy to follow if you’re patient with it. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a great example of what Brazilian cinema can offer audiences, it’s a sequel that works even without its predecessor, and it’s a successful thriller that is on the level of some of the best crime sagas out there. For anyone interested in watching it, it’s available on Netflix in the U.S.