Rio’s punks on no­tice

ELITE SQUAD/TROPA DE ELITE Di­rected by José Padilha. Star­ring Wag­ner Moura, An­dre Ramiro, Caio Jun­queira, Mil­hem Cor­taz, Fer­nanda Machado

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews - DON­ALD CLARKE

Dublin, 115 min

18 cert, IFI, WHEN news emerged that some­thing called Elite Squad had won the top prize at this year’s Ber­lin Film Fes­ti­val, more than a few wags ex­pressed sur­prise that Steven Sea­gal was still mak­ing movies. That ti­tle re­ally has a Sea­gal­ish ring about it. Don’t you think?

As it tran­spires, this con­sis­tently ex­cit­ing film, a tale of crime and pun­ish­ment from the Brazil­ian Fave­las, is prob­a­bly a lit­tle too vi­o­lent, a lit­tle too loud and a lit­tle too right-wing to in­ter­est Mr Sea­gal. In­deed, one could imag­ine such un­flinch­ing cin­e­matic Vik­ings as John Mil­ius or John Wayne balk­ing at the film’s ap­par­ent mes­sage: the only way to fight vi­o­lent crime is to cast aside due process and trust in the grenade and the Ar­maLite. Come to think of it, even Bat­man might find the he­roes of Elite Squad too ro­bust for his taste.

Di­rected by José Padilha, whose su­perb 2002 doc­u­men­tary Bus 174 pad­dled in sim­i­lar bloody pools, the film con­cerns it­self with the paramil­i­tary branch of the Rio de Janeiro po­lice that serves un­der the acro­nym BOPE.

Capt Nasci­mento (Wag­ner Moura), a ruth­less oper­a­tive of the squad, is about to be­come a fa­ther and, tor­mented by the pres­sures of the job and those loom­ing per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, has de­cided to seek out some­body to re­place him. Mean­while, two rook­ies, the thought­ful Ma­tias (An­dré Ramiro) and the more im­pul­sive Neto (Caio Jun­queira), are dis­cov­er­ing how cor­rupt the lower reaches of the Rio po­lice have be­come.

When the Pope comes to visit, Nasci­mento and his col­leagues are dis­patched to the shan­ty­towns to main­tain or­der. In the midst of one par­tic­u­larly heated con­fla­gra­tion, Nasci­mento en­coun­ters the two cadets and in­vites them to join BOPE.

Elite Squad, based on a book by two for­mer BOPE of­fi­cers, could be viewed as a coun­ter­point to the con­sis­tently pop­u­lar City of God. Padilha’s movie is ev­ery bit as ex­cit­ing as its pre­de­ces­sor, but the hu­mane fa­tal­ism has been re­placed with an ap­par­ent be­lief in the right­ness of un­re­strained state­spon­sored vi­o­lence. Cam­paign­ing stu­dents are por­trayed as mid­dle­class know-noth­ings; the most ruth­less cops are de­picted as the least cor­rupt­ible.

De­pend­ing upon your in­cli­na­tion, that pen­chant for neo-fas­cism will ei­ther add an il­licit thrill to the riv­et­ing ac­tion se­quences or send you run­ning to the exit with your hand over your mouth.

Mind you, Costa-Gavras, the un­re­pen­tant vet­eran left-wing film-maker, who was at the head of that Ber­lin jury, saw enough im­plied crit­i­cism of BOPE in the film to grant it the Golden Bear. What­ever the po­lit­i­cal in­ten­tions of its mak­ers, Elite Squad is so strik­ingly red in tooth and claw, and so breath­lessly en­er­gised, that it de­mands to be seen.

Top cops in ac­tion: ‘Makes Dirty Harry look like PC Plod,’ the Ber­lin film jury very nearly said

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