I didn’t ever see Elite Squad, the original movie that preceded this one. I just thought I’d better start off this review by mentioning that. Fortunately, I was told that seeing the first movie was not essential to enjoying and understanding the second movie. That’s very true. I should also mention that, after seeing Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, I am now very keen to see the first movie.
Wagner Moura plays the main character, Lt. Colonel Nascimento, a man who we see in the first few moments of the movie getting into a car and then being fired upon by some angry people with a lot of heavy weaponry. We then move back a number of years and see what events led up to this moment. It turns out that it’s all, essentially, to do with politics. The Lt. Colonel is in charge of a BOPE squad (aka Skulls AKA a damn fine Special Forces unit that operates in Rio) that is called in to deal with a prison riot. Things go a bit wrong but the end result is the death of a major criminal so the politics dictate that Nascimento must be removed from his post. To be promoted. Thinking that he can start making a big difference for the better, Nascimento doesn’t realise just what a struggle lies ahead of him as he attempts to tackle the criminals and starts to realise that the government officials and police around him are just as dangerous, or even more dangerous, than the standard criminals inhabiting the slums.
Written and directed by Jose Padilha (who I am familiar with after seeing the excellent documentary, Bus 174), there’s a lot to enjoy here. The shooting style, for one thing, puts all of the action and activity more in line with something like Green Zone or any Call Of Duty game than a standard police thriller. Understandably so, considering how much of a war zone the favelas can be for those trying to uphold the law.
The acting is great from everyone. Moura excels in the lead role, a man quite willing to make hard decisions that have to be made but also wanting to help those around him. Milhem Cortaz, Sandro Rocha, Andre Mattos and a few others are equally good as men looking to do whatever is needed to keep helping themselves to better lives. Irandhir Santos plays a character opposed to Moura, but the two actually have a lot in common if they can stay civil long enough to communicate properly. Maria Ribeiro and Pedro Van-Held don’t have all that much to do, except be family members who may or may not get in some trouble, but they’re just fine. And then we have Andre Ramiro, another good guy who may not make it all that obvious from his actions simply because he does whatever needs done to get the job done and to defeat the criminals.
The downside of the movie is that, despite the unique social and geographical slant, it’s something that has been done numerous times before and even the fresher moments feel slightly stale. Stylish flourishes and tricks help to keep the entertainment factor high but, cinematically speaking, we’ve seen better and more interesting riffs on this kind of thing – from the likes of Serpico up to the classic L. A. Confidential.
Having said that, I’d still rewatch this movie and I encourage fans of exciting police thrillers to give it a watch.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is certainly worth picking up on DVD if you find it at the right price. Sound and image quality are excellent, the subtitling seems to be pretty good (though a few minor mis-steps seem to crop up here and there) and the animated menus are a nice welcome to the style of the movie. Sadly (for film fans anyway), the main “making of…” featurette focuses more on the politics and social statement of the movie than the practical aspects of getting the film made. It wouldn’t be so bad if a lot of the material didn’t feel as if it was nothing more than a repetition of the points raised throughout the movie.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: JOSE PADILHA
STARS: WAGNER MOURA, IRANDHIR SANTOS, ANDRE RAMIRO, MILHEM CORTAZ, MARIA RIBEIRO, SANDRO ROCHA, ANDRE MATTOS, PEDRO VAN-HELD
RUNTIME: 115 MINS APPROX