More than eleven million viewers paid tickets to watch Elite Squad 2 aka Elite Squad: The Enemy Within at the theatres, surpassing the record established by Avatar as the most successful movie in the history of Brazil and showing that a good screenplay, a good cast, good production values and thought-provoking topics still matter more than all the progresses in special effects. The first movie was a cultural phenomenon in Brazil, expectations were high and sequels usually disappoint. But this sequel not only lives up to the first movie – it transcends it. What we have here is a smarter movie that exchanges the favelas, the drug traffic-ridden slums, for luxurious public offices. The enemy is someone else this time: not the petty street dealers, but the whole corrupt system that extends itself to cops, politicians and the media. Those expecting an exciting action movie like the first one will get less, but nonetheless excellent, action sequences of the BOPE in action, but more story dealing with the social-political reality of Brazil.
The movie starts thirteen years after the events of the first movie. During a prison riot, the BOPE is called in to intervene. Although they secure the prison, the strike team causes a public relations incident when Captain Matias (André Ramiro) cold-bloodedly shoots an inmate ready to surrender in front of Fraga ((Irandhir Santos), a human rights activist negotiating peace with the inmates. The first choice of a patsy is Colonel Nascimento (Wagner Moura), but public opinion loves him and instead of falling down, as he puts it, he falls up. He’s sent to the Public Safety Department, basically the secret services. In his new role he makes the BOPE more efficient and modern. He launches a war on drug lords, thinking that, with profits shrinking, the criminals will just disappear. Instead he creates a new type of criminal. Corrupt cops, involved in the drug money, eliminate the middlemen and set up a racketeering system, forcing the slum dwellers to pay for protection. These militias, apparently working for the common good, become a powerful force since they can buy votes and influence elections. Politicians and militias tighten their relationships behind Nascimento’s back, who continues to think his methods are working.
Elite Squad 2 works because it grows from the first one. The first movie introduced BOPE to the world and had to spend time explaining its methods, philosophy, code of honour and recruitment process. The sequel doesn’t suffer from the burden of exposition, and instead of rehashing the plot of the first – the bane of most sequels – it lets the characters’ personalities lead the story.
Many old faces come back: from major ones like Matias and Nascimento, to smaller ones like Lieutenant-Colonel Fábio (Milhem Cortaz), the corrupt recruit who failed to join the BOPE in the first movie, and Major Rocha (Sandro Rocha) a mere face in the first but here the villain who masterminds the racketeering program to take control of the favelas. Matias and Nascimento’s relationship becomes strained after Matias is kicked out of the BOPE following the prison incident. From the new characters, mostly politicians, the most important is the left-wing activist Fraga, who uses the prison incident to run for Deputy.
Brazilian cinema has been very good since City of God exploded in the world like a hand grenade. Because of it Brazilian cinema has become synonymous with crime movies, even if that’s a gross generalization. A subgenre of crime movies defined by graphic violence, social criticism and inventive camera work has prospered in its wake: My Name Ain’t Johnny, The Man Who Copied, City of Men, Bus 174, and the Elite Squad movies. At the heart of this Renaissance is the movie’s screenwriter, Bráulio Mantovani. For better or for worse all these movies take inspiration from the style he established in City of God. Directors and actors come and go, but everyone still copies the dark humour, the political irreverence, the non-linear narratives, and the clever voice-over that earned Mantovani an Oscar nomination almost a decade ago.
Editor Daniel Rezende, who also worked in City of God, puts the movie together with the force of a tornado. Complementing director of photography Lula Carvalho’s documentary-like style, the fast editing and the dizzying camera work go as far as cinema outside of 3D can go in immersing the viewer in the middle of the action.
Most people who watch Wagner Moura here probably don’t know that in Brazil he’s primarily known for playing romantic lead roles in soap operas. In the first movie Moura revealed a surprising talent for fierceness and cold-bloodedness; in the new movie his transformation continues. In the first movie the actor underwent physical training; in the second his change is emotional. In the first movie Nascimento was looking for a replacement; in the second he starts questioning his role in the system. Moura portrays a more vulnerable character and his performance has grown richer in subtlety.
Of those from the original cast, André Ramiro has the shortest screen time. The first movie showed his slow transformation into a noble policeman into a ruthless killing machine, ending with his bloody rite of initiation. The plot in the sequel goes in a direction that doesn’t give him much to do, which is a pity, because Ramiro’s character was the most interesting after Moura’s. But he has the privilege of stealing the few scenes he’s in with his angry performance.
Elite Squad 2 is an upsetting movie. The first movie offered the easy solutions of a police state whereas the second shows their ineffectiveness unless change occurs in the whole system, from top to bottom, and not just in the favelas. The first movie was a fun action ride that ended on a satisfying note, with justice served. In the second the viewer will come out feeling as indignant as if unjustly battered by a police truncheon, unable to forget it for a long time.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is in UK cinemas 12th August 2011.
Diretor: José Padilha
Screenplay: José Padilha, Bráulio Mantovani, Rodrigo Pimentel
Cast: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, André Ramiro, Milhem Cortaz, Seu Jorge, André Mattos, Sandro Rocha
Runtime: 116 min