Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

Let’s set up the situation in Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Lt. Col. Roberto Nascimento is Rio de Janeiro’s top cop. Not in rank, but certainly in effectiveness. As head of BOPE, the acronym for Rio’s SWAT team, he has been very successful in reducing the drug trade in the city. He’s not been able to eradicate it, no one could do that – but his ‘shoot first, take no prisoners’ methods – have made him very popular. He ‘s been a cop for 21 years and he’s risen to head up the entire BOPE operation.

When once they had only three platoons and just six vehicles – they’re now a battalion with superior fire power, state of the art weapons, along with top notch surveillance and communication systems, plus armored vehicles and helicopters.

At a Rio prison, a riot breaks out, and the prisoners belonging to rival factions within the prison, begin killing each other. In fact, this was a gang war over the drug trade within the prison. A tactical BOPE squad is called in to quell the riot. Nascimento controls his forces via radio contact.

Meanwhile a requested negotiator, a human rights activist called Diogo Fraga, is in close contact with Beirada, one of the prison faction leaders, and a cease fire is being discussed.

One of Nascimento’s top captains, Andre Matias is within shooting range of Beirada who is holding on to Fraga and has a gun.

Top – Beirada, Middle – Fraga, Bottom -Matias

Trained to shoot first – Matias ignores an order, and drops Beirada with a single head shot. The riot, which had been momentarily on hold, now goes fully out of control. Nascimento and Matias are blamed. Nascimento is too successful and too popular to be fired. So he’s removed as the head of BOPE, and kicked upstairs to a desk job – Head of Surveillance – Wire Taps. Matias is removed from BOPE and reassigned/demoted to being a regular or standard streep cop.

Now that Nascimento is positioned within the halls of power, he will begin to understand that his fears about the drug trade and corruption are all too real, and that he is now located right in the heart of it. You see, due to the effectiveness of BOPE, the drug lords have less product to push on the streets, and the buyers of the drugs are finding it harder and harder to score.

This is a good situation, at least you’d think it was. Only if you follow the money, you’d find that the drug lords now have less money to pay to the corrupt cops who are in bed with the corrupt politicians who need the votes to stay in power.

The answer is simple – the corrupt cops, now facing their own financial problems – come to a startling conclusion. There’s more profit if you remove the middle men. So these paramilitary groups – not quite police and not quite military – but somewhere in between – start to assassinate the heads of drug syndicates not to rid the city of drugs – but to control the businesses themselves.

Soon they not only control the flow of drugs, but they’re also in control of the most important services in these slums – gas for cooking, and cable services – telephone, tv, and internet.

Irandhir Santos as Diogo Fraga. That’s Beirada’s blood on his shirt.

This is what Nascimento is facing. Diogo Fraga has now become a state legislative representative. He was voted in because of his human rights advocacy. Beyond that, he is married to Nascimento’s ex-wife. Nascimento’s son – now a teen-ager has begun to question his father about his job. Why is it your job to kill people?

Nascimento cannot answer his son’s question

On the street – the corrupt cops led by Rocha – have become so powerful, so impudent, that they attack a local police station as masked thieves intent on stealing the weapons stockpiled at the station. Things couldn’t get any worse – you’d think, but you’d be wrong.

Directed and written by Jose Padilha – Elite Squad: The Enemy Within aka Tropa 2 for short, is a powerful movie. Despite what you see in the trailer, it is not end-to-end action sequences, instead it is a look at corruption and the exploitation of the city’s poorest people – not by criminals – but by the paramilitary groups who are supposed to be protecting the populace. In short. these corrupt cops are backed by the very government officials who rail against these crimes.

Wagner Moura as Roberto Nascimento

Nacimento is again played by Wagner Moura, and Captain Andre Matias is played by Andre Ramiro. They were the leads in Elite Squad (2007) which I reviewed here. Watch for great performances by Sandro Rocha as Major Rocha and Milhelm Cortaz as Fabio who together were at the head of the food chain of the corrupt cops. Also in play are the Governor of the Rio de Janeiro State, Rio’s Chief of Police, a popular TV talking head, Fortunato, who stokes the fires, a crusading and fearless woman newspaper reporter, and Nascimento’s bosses in the Police Intelligence area.

The keywords to describe this film are: Police, Crime, Politics, Drugs, and Rio de Janeiro. No, these are not the five separate points of a star. Instead they are collectively intertwined and mixed; all within the same circle. Padhila’s film starts with a shoot-out and then employs a flashback technique. Throughout the film Moura’s Nascimento does a voice over narration. These may not be new techniques in the art of film-making, but within the contexts of the the film’s genres: Drama, Crime, and Thriller – it all works.

I think this film is better than the original Elite Squad which was chiefly an action film. In fact – it’s not really a sequel at all. It is a new story – a story that every urban dweller can relate to. We all want security, safety, human rights, and a responsible government. This is something of a dark picture in the sense that in Rio, in this film, none of those elements that we all want are readily present or available. Think about living under those conditions, and it is a very scary thought.

Kudos to Jose Padilha for making this film. One last thought – this film was made and released in 2010 but only after the elections that year. Despite the critical acclaim that the film received, and the fact that the film is the highest grossing film ever made in Brazil – it was not submitted by the Brazilian Film Commission for consideration as a nominee for an Oscar. This alone is food for thought.

The film has gotten 95% positive reviews according to Rotten Tomatoes, and the DVD is now available. Or you can watch it via streaming from multiple sources. I’m rating this film at four point five zero and calling it a must see.

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