Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

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Remo D
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Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

Post by Remo D » Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:47 pm

First things first. If you're a movie theatre and you sell HOT DOGS, then you have a duty to have the hot dogs READY before your FIRST MOVIE STARTS. I had nothing but POPCORN for lunch on Sunday because my schedule didn't allow for a food break earlier and because the theatre was NOT prepared. This must NOT happen again.

I was curious to see the Brazilian police thriller ELITE SQUAD after encountering both an exciting trailer and a damning print review. Well, it turns out I wasn't seeing ELITE SQUAD after all... the opening titles revealed that I was actually watching ELITE SQUAD 2: THE ENEMY WITHIN (the "sequel" status of this film was withheld from all American promotional materials). And the bad review imported from the New York Times for our local paper? It was for the 2007 ORIGINAL and had zero bearing on the film the local arthouse was actually SHOWING (letter to the editor duly sent). By what I've been able to determine, the sequel is the superior film, and while the original (as with the sequel, directed by Jose Padhila) served to introduce police Lt. Colonel Nascimento (Wagner Moura), you can still jump into the new film with relatively little trouble.

As we pick up the story ("seven years later"), Nascimento is in command of Rio de Janeiro's "Elite Squad" (BOPE)--also known as "the skulls" thanks to their striking logo--and is trying to subdue a brutal cartel war within the walls of a maximum security prison with as few casualties as possible. But guns are jumped, bodies fall, and the involvement of liberal history professor Diogo Fraga guarantees a scandal.

Nascimento isn't exactly "Dirty Harry," but he's a conservative who simply wants to put the bad guys away and who can't stand the bleeding-hearts who fight their wars via the media. Complicating the issue for him is the fact that Fraga just happens to have married his ex-wife and is now raising his son! Liberal demands that Nascimento be used as a scapegoat are turned into a conservative groundswell championing him as a hero--largely thanks to the efforts of "Fortunato," loved by countless television viewers for his showboating, theatrical commentaries (beyond a doubt, he's intended to be Brazil's answer to Glenn Beck). Nascimento finds himself promoted to head of security and is given complete charge over the BOPE militia, which he soon transforms into a super-efficient "war machine" which makes quick work of the drug dealers controlling Rio's slums. Unfortunately, he realizes too late that by doing so, he's opened the door for the "dirty" cops to commandeer the area for their own operations. And just what will it take for the government to take concise, definitive action? Quite a lot, actually... it's an election year.

ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN was both highly popular and controversial in its native Brazil, but it's quite clear that its scathing indictment of "the system" doesn't contain itself to its home turf. The cons refer to the libs with utter contempt, while the libs respond by branding the cons "fascists" (sound familiar?)--and in the meantime, the "mafia" is practically handed the keys to the kingdom ("Why do you say 'mafia?' That's Italian... macaroni. This is rice and beans!") because nobody wants to lose votes. Nascimento and Fraga can't stand each other, but now that Fraga has joined the legislature, it's clear that both of them need to play a significant role if "the system" is going to be bucked. Indeed, both of them resort to unconstitutional methods to get what they need, and when a contrived police raid (staged to cover ulterior motives) can't be stopped by the evidence, it isn't the liberal who sarcastically refers to the affair as "Operation Iraq!"

Rest assured, though--for all of its deliberate satire and confrontational anger, the ELITE SQUAD sequel scores as a terrific straight-up thriller, as well. The characters are complicated and compelling (Sandro Rocha, in particular, is unforgettable as the dirtiest of dirty cops), the violence is brutal and shocking without being gratuitous, and there are no foregone conclusions. This is as satisfying as any "action" film out there.

Check your paper and make sure they're showing the same movie they're reviewing, but see it. Now I've got to go find the original...

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