Saturday, August 13, 2011

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is the most successful film in Brazilian history (beating Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands made in 1976). It is a sequel to Elite Squad. Both the Elite Squad films are semi-fictional accounts of the Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro State. (Unlike NZ, Brazil has parallel Military and Civil Police forces both report to State Governors). The BOPE has a controversial reputation for shoot first policies and targeting of slum dwellers in Rio de Janeiro, and one has to wonder about a police unit with a skull on its badge.

While Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a sequel, it is also self contained and I didn't feel I was missing anything, given that I hadn't seen the earlier film.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within focuses on Lt. Colonel Roberto Nascimento the BOPE commander whose wife has left him and is now married to his arch enemy, left wing academic Diogo Fraga who heads a Human Rights organisation. These two men have opposite views on solving Rio's crime problems. Nascimmento's views are challenged as he gradually realises that the BOPE is being used by corrupt police and state politicians to replace the drug gangs in the slums with their own henchmen.

The action scenes are exciting and well handled and while there are a number of interesting characters (a great shock-jock TV presenter, various police inside and outside the BOPE, Nascimento's ex-wife, son and son's girlfriend) they don't get enough screen time, as the camera stays on Nascimento. In fact the major fault with the film in my mind is the excessive use of voice over narration to explain things and tell the story. I think the director could have let the action and dialogue tell the story, rather than rely on narration.

What may appeal to Brazilians is that the film clearly lays out the Catch-22 situation that authorities in Rio face as they try to police the city. There is no simple answer that works.

Ian's rating 3/5

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