Elite Squad

[a.k.a. Tropa de Elite
Dir: José Padilha
Star: Wagner Moura, Caio Junqueira, André Ramiro, Fernanda Machado

Memo to self: in the unlikely event I ever go to Brazil, do not piss off the BOPE. They're the "special forces" of the local cops, who handle crime in the favelas, the hillside slums that litter Rio, and are notorious as the nests of heavily-armed drug-dealers. BOPE pretty much define "zero tolerance": the BOPE song starts, "Man in black, what is your mission? To invade the favela and leave the bodies on the ground." As you do. That established, this centres on Captain Nascimento (Moura), who is looking to find his replacement - his wife is about to have a child, and he needs to get off the razor's edge that is life in BOPE. The two candidates are Gouveia (Junqueira) and Matias (Ramiro); both have strengths and weaknesses, but demonstrate the required aversion for the corruption that is endemic in the regular police-force. The film starts with the incident that brings them to the attention of Nascimento, then backtracks to show what led up to that point, then continues forward through their BOPE training, and on to the disaster that unfolds, when Matias tries to cling to a remnant of his more-liberal past as a law student.

I really enjoyed its refreshingly unapologetic attitude, in which law must be enforced by any means necessary. There is no moral grey involved here; it's almost a throwback to the era of Westerns, when the bad guys wore black hats, so there was no confusion. As far as BOPE are concerned, "You're either for us, or against us. But we will win, and you'd be well-advised not to be in the way." However, the film also portrays a deep cynicism: there's little indication BOPE's efforts are having any real effect, being more along the lines of "Well, we've completely removed the head of that hydra...", and it also targets bleeding-heart liberals: as Nascimento puts it, "No one protests when a policeman dies. It only happens when rich people die. When I see a protest against violence, my friend, I want to punch them all in the face." Despite a little too much reliance on shaky-cam, the action scenes have a realistic grittiness: when people get shot, they fall down. It doesn't exactly portray a flattering picture of Brazil, concentrating almost exclusively on criminality of one kind or another. However, I sense it's probably a little closer to the reality than Blame It On Rio.

[November 2012]

Putting the Rio in Riot
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