Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
In 2007, Brazilian underdog Elite Squad won the Golden Bear in Berlin and made everyone wonder why they didn’t watch more films from Latin America. In 2010, Elite Squad 2 (as we’re not technically allowed to call it in the UK) became Brazil’s biggest ever box office hit. This summer, it has finally arrived on our shores to appease an audience evidently desperate for teenage “fuck the man, man” politics and an awful lot of blood. We wanted to love it, but Elite Squad: The Enemy Within isn’t all that.
Ten years on from the first film, no-nonsense cop Roberto Nascimento (Moura) is now a Colonel in the BOPE, a special forces unit of Rio’s military police which kicks ass, takes names and revels in its nickname: ‘The Skull’. When a containment operation during a prison break ends with prisoners being executed, Nascimento expects to be hung out to dry, but despite the rabble-rousing of pinko lecturer Fraga (Santos) the people applaud his inflexibility and he is duly appointed to high office in the Security ministry. Never one to waste a chance to buy more guns, Nascimento immediately uses his new-found influence to expand the BOPE with the aim of purging Rio’s favelas of drug dealers and racketeers.
The petty gangsters are duly driven out of business (or just shot, which seems to be the preferred method), but crime doesn’t drop as Nascimento predicted – instead, corrupt cops angry at losing their pocket money simply take over the slums, operating paramilitary militias and ruthlessly suppressing dissidents. Nascimento suspects policeman and gangster Rocha (Sandro Rocha) of involvement in a plan to rig the forthcoming elections by using his control over the slumdwellers, but as he digs deeper he realises the rot spreads even farther than he’d realised. Meanwhile, his relationship with his son, now living with Fraga after his ex-wife remarried, is becoming increasingly shaky as Nascimento realises he may never be able to explain his violent vocation. It’s a hard knock life…
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within retains much of its predecessor’s key cast and crew, including director Jose Padilha, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Bráulio Mantovani (City of God) and their implacable star Wagner Moura. All three give apparently solid performances; Padilha delivers a pacy and driven thriller, Mantovani’s dialogue is slick and snappy (although I only know that because I speak a bit of Portuguese; the subtitles were buggered beyond repair) and Moura continues to be a perfectly serviceable antihero with a nice line in barely-suppressed rage.
However, a film is unfortunately more than the sum of its parts, and when you add everything together something goes very wrong. Sure, The Enemy Within is fast and well-shot – but it’s also contrived, prone to chronic slipped plot and hopelessly reliant on shock, gore and shouting. The black-clad soldiers of the BOPE dispassionately bring the thunder with their grim, expressionless faces and monstrous assault rifles, whilst Nascimento’s self-righteous voiceovers do their best to claim that the real villains of the piece are the crooked suits. Nobody’s endorsing police brutality, obviously, but the constant diatribes against ‘the system’ sound like they’ve been written in a spiral bound notebook by an earnest fifteen year old taking GCSE politics – the film’s simplistic and heavy-handed message massively devalues its more worthwhile elements.
It’s impossible to avoid comparisons between this film and The Secret In Their Eyes, another lone-insider-fights-a-corrupt-government thriller from South America; and, inevitably, Elite Squad comes off worse. Solid central performances and some genuinely fascinating cinematography keep it from being unwatchable, but if you’re not already a fan of the series this is no place to start.