Saturday, June 18, 2011

SFF Review: Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within (Jose Padilha, 2010)

Elte Squad 2: The Enemy Within is a 2010 Brazilian film produced and directed by Jose Padilha. It is the sequel to the 2007 film, The Elite Squad. Having been highly acclaimed both publicly and critically, Elite Squad 2, co-written by Braulio Mantovani (City of God), centres on the Special Police Operation Battalion of the Rio de Janiero Military Police (BOPE). It is Brazil's highest grossing film of all time and from my understanding of this film, it is not imperative to see the first film prior. It won the Golden Bear in at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008.

The main character is Lt Col. Robert Nascimento (Wagner Moura), who returns from the first film but has now matured and been promoted. It is revealed in the prologue that he will be the target for assassination for his involvements at some point later in the film, as his car cops the brunt of heavy gunfire. Following a disastrous BOPE operation attempting to extinguish a brutal prison riot, Nascimento gets caught in a bloody political dispute that not only involves the Public Safety Department, the State Governor and State Military Police, but also rising corrupt paramilitary groups known as Militia.

Nascimento is removed from his position with BOPE and transferred to a director role in Government Intelligence. His colleague and friend, Andre Matthias, who was leading the prison operation, is demoted to the State Military Police. While the film opens by revealing the prevalence of drug distribution plaguing the city's favelas, the focus of the film quickly shifts to the rising corruption in the police force following the extensive cleanup of the streets by BOPE.

Corrupt police with ties to the Governor, who were formerly taking a cut from drug dealers, turn into a mafia-like regime demanding a tax from every business in the favelas. Nascimento is powerless to stop the rising moral decay of the city, but finds himself involved when Matthias is killed, and a controversial journalist disappears. His only ally is a man he despises: Diogo Fraga, a left wing human rights activist and the current lover of his ex-wife.

Padilha does an amazing job, through his direction, of balancing a number of different story lines, and allowing them to converge so seamlessly. The amount of story covered in this two hours is downright impressive. Though presented as fictional, it does function partly as a social commentary, drawing on current corruption and human rights scandals in Brazil. The pace is relentless, the film is frequently engaging, and for a film which deals with such a complex web of interrelationships (from top level politicians all the way down the slum-dwelling 'scumbags') it remains quite succinct to follow, concise in its execution, and ultimately leaves nothing unresolved.

The film's key weakness is the use of Nascimento's voice-over. Largely simplistic and informal, it comes across as redundant to the energetic imagery which it recounts. But overall, Elite Squad 2 reminded me of a two hour action-packed episode of HBO's The Wire, only set amongst the government offices and slums of Rio, not Baltimore. Full of fine performances, the well-staged action sequences are captured through intense, hand-held cinematography that resembled the style in City of God. Elite Squad 2 is a gritty, well-made and thrilling film, and one of the better political action films I have seen in some time.

My Rating: 4 Stars (B)


  1. This is such a good film. Extremely good from start to finish, and also a great one for starting a debate. Who are the good guys? And who are the bad guys? Sometimes the lines seem blurred!

  2. Yeah, I agree. It's pacing was relentless, and there was a blurring of heroes and villains. There are the slum dwelling 'scumbags' working with the corrupt police department. BOPE are made to look really bad too, even though their agenda was supported by the Government. It was an engaging action thriller!