MOVIE REVIEW: Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Brazil gets a pretty bad rap in movies—after decades of being known just for Carnivale and jiggling butt cheeks, now the nation is always represented as drug dealers and overrun slums. It almost makes you nostalgic for the butt cheeks.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, however, is a gripping and violently entertaining entry in the latter genre. It focus not on the slum dwellers, but on the police and politicians who exploit them, and whom the main character comes to see as the greatest criminals of all. Writer/director Jose Padilha can be overly pessimistic and doesn’t have any answers, but his movie is full of gripping outrage, and even some moral complexity.
Lt. Col. Roberto Nascimiento (Wagner Moura) is a commander of the Brazilian police’s special ops, the BOPE (their cuddly logo is a skull in front of a crossed dagger and pistols). When he is promoted for political reasons to oversee all wiretapping in Rio de Janeiro, the BOPE becomes his “war machine” to drive out drug dealers- but little does he realize, the dealers are replaced by militias run by crooked cops who extort every business in the slums, protected by the highest-ranking politicians in the land. Nascimiento starts to unravel this mystery, while also trying to reconnect with his son, who has grown close to his new stepfather, the nation’s most prominent human rights activist. (Inconvenient, huh?)
Actor Andre Mattos gives a standout performance that adds humor to a bleak film, but also heightens the unbelievable cruelty of his character. As TV host/congressman/crime boss Fortunato, Mattos pounds the desk, goes red in the face, and even does a dance to sell ideas that serve his illegal enterprise. He’s like some demon cross between Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, and John Gotti. It’s so wrong to laugh along with him, but as the politicians onscreen note, he sure is entertaining.
SPOILER ALERT-SEVERAL AHEAD
Elite Sqaud isn’t afraid to work without a hero. One thrilling sequence shows a good cop leading a daring raid against drug dealers; while he is unaware that his mission is an excuse for the corrupt cops to clear out their competition, the audience knows the whole time. It’s exciting and conflicting, even trippier than watching Batman fight SWAT teams in Dark Knight.
The film ultimately blames “the system”, while maybe acknowledging that this is more of a conspiracy theory than reality: the ending shows in brutal detail that “the system has no central authority,” as several corrupt factions begin to take action independently. It’s telling that when the movie ends, even Nascimiento hasn’t perfectly figured out the criminal enterprise. While Padilha documents how the deck is inherently stacked against some people, he also shows that the stackers are all working in chaos themselves.
In Portuguese, with English subtitles