Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Review : Elite Squad : The Enemy Within

Whilst it’s perhaps not entirely necessary to be familiar with director José Padilha’s Golden Bear winning Elite Squad (2007) to appreciate this terrific sequel, it’s certainly worthwhile picking up a copy, if only to allow yourself twice as long under the guidance of one of Brazil’s most breathlessly kinetic storytellers. Much like Paul Greengrass, with whose visual style he shares common ground, Padilha imports much of his technique from the narrative-driven documentaries on which he cut his teeth, most notably the excellent Bus 174 (2002). Often violent, always ruthlessly unsentimental, his layered approach to both character and narrative functions simultaneously with the propulsive momentum of his storytelling, offering a dense, wide-ranging socio-political portrait of a city under siege from those charged with its protection.

Set ten years after the events depicted in the first film, we’re re-introduced to military police captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) and his second in command André Matias (André Ramiro) as they try to quell an horifically violent riot at Rio de Janeiro's notorious Bangu One maximum security prison. Attacked on live television in the bloody aftermath by a liberal human rights activist for his 'execution' of the rioting prisoners, Nascimento is removed from his position in command of the 'Skulls' (the symbol of BOPE, the Special Police Operations Battalion), as the police commissioner and governors frantically scramble for a scapegoat, their eye firmly on a delicate upcoming re-election campaign.

With opposing public and political opinions branding Nascimento both a hero and a murderer, the loudest voice of assent being that of ultra right-wing political commentator Fortunato (Paul Sorvino lookalike, André Mattos), the powers that be skirt responsibility by quietly promoting him to sub-Secretary of Security for the State, essentially in charge of all wire-tapping in the city, whilst allowing his buddy Mathias to serve as the fall guy. Concerned about the effect such publicly voiced opinions are having on his young son, Nascimento determines to make the most of his (superficial) ascent into the upper echelons of power by cleaning up the surrounding favelas, controlled initially by local drug cartels but soon superceded by a corrupt militia of cops led by the ruthless Russo (Sandro Rocha), running an extortion racket inextricably linked to the politicians chasing electoral success at any cost.

The heart-stopping action sequences shot in and around the narrow alleyways of the Rio favelas, including a fantastic helicopter-led assault near the start, owe as much to Padilha's commitment to docu-styled verisimiltude as they do to DoP Lula Carvalho's frenetic handheld photography and Daniel Rezende's razor-sharp cutting. That's not to say that director and cinematographer keep the camera entirely free-wheeling, craned cityscapes and some wonderful character-driven ensemble scenes recall the type of fluid steadicam work employed by Scorsese. Given the breadth of focus, multiple principal characters and structural framing device of the opening scene (from which we jump backwards to return at the end), all tied together by a subjective narration from Nascimento, the Scorsese comparison extends further than the camera, with his Goodfellas (1990) proving more than simply a hyperbolic touchstone. In fact, with its intelligent discourse on criminality and corruption of power, the film owes as much to the likes of HBO's The Wire, offering as it does multiple viewpoints on its sociological concerns from different strata of society, for every right-wing television broadcast from Fortunato we've the liberal perspective from activist Diogo Fraga (Irandhir Santos), perhaps as a rebuttal to the accusations of fascism thrown at Padilha's original film (a theme Pauline Kael once proposed as inherent to the action movie genre).

There's enough excellent work here to give the best of Hollywood a serious run for their money, Padilha doesn't let up the tension for a second and Bráulio Mantovani's (City of God) screenplay steers clear of reductivism in both the treatment of his characters and his thematic concerns, his ending eschewing simplistic closure for an open-ended, cyclical stance towards the violence and corruption. Edge of your seat stuff with a smart, focussed head on its shoulders, It's one of the strongest films of its kind in years, and stands for me as a real contender for my top ten list for the year so far. Terrific.

Elite Squad : The Enemy Within (Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora E Outro) – 2010 – Brazil – 115 mins – Dir : José Padilha

1 comment:

  1. Great film, and extremely tense. Worth checking out at the cinema when it comes out on Friday.

    Elite Squad The Enemy Within