By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Guess the top grossing film in Brazil’s box office history. Well, since you’re reading this review, you’ve probably figured out it’s either Elite Squad or Elite Squad 2 (it’s the latter), but the take away here is that these films did a significant amount of Avatar-topping business in one of the largest foreign markets in the world.
Hong Kong’s Avatar-beater? 3D Porn.
Elite Squad follows the BOPE police unit as they attempt to clean up the drug-infestedRio de Janeiro favelas as much as possible before the impending visit of the Pope. The leader of the unit is Captain Nascimiento, who also is busy grooming his replacement before his departure due to his newborn son. His top two candidates are the tough, reactionary Neto Gouveia and the intelligent, idealistic Andre Matias, who have quite a journey to undergo from the regular police force to the top of the brutal, elite BOPE unit.
Elite Squad 2 picks up where we left off 13 years later. Now Lt. Col. Nascimiento’s son is a teenager, and living with his ex-wife and stepfather, who also happens to be a liberal activist crusader. He has other things to worry about, though, as a failed BOPE operation putting down a prison riot has ensnared him in a political dispute… and puts him face to face with a corrupt system that has replaced the drug dealers he eradicated in the favelas with ruthless paramilitary militias.
The scope of these films is epic- rise and fall, build an empire, Godfather-style epic. While telling the story of BOPE and the drug dealers the fight () and after that the entire corrupt system they fight, the films try to give us a glimpse of a little bit of everything Rio de Janeiro, from rich university students to impoverished favela dwellers. You have to toast the ambition.
Which works out for some more than others
Jose Padilha’s directing has plenty of style and the films are full of crisp action and inventive shots. The acting is also quite strong, with plenty of juicy villain roles and our two candidates from the first film gifted with massive character arcs.
The real star, though, is Wagner Moura (Nascimiento), who has the difficult task of stretching the concept of a sympathetic antihero to include violent, large-scale vigilantism and borderline fascist peacekeeping techniques. Moura is able to make us understand and empathize with a man like that, which is quite an accomplishment.
The films portray any sort of slightly liberal, human rights concerned individual as a naïve idiot. This is a unique enough approach that I was willing to see where the movie took it, which proved worth the ride. Still, sometimes they get a little obvious with it, such as when Nascimiento’s 13 year old kid gets busted with drugs and his liberal stepfather doesn’t punish him because he “doesn’t want to dictate his life.” Who really does that?
Especially when there are so many success stories!
These films glorify violence. So, what’s the problem with that, you ask? Plenty of awesome films can be accused of that, and if you don’t want your toddler experiencing it don’t show them the damn movie. The reason the Elite Squad films deserve to be beered for this is because they relentlessly justify this violence to the point that a lot of Brazilian messageboarders apparently think murdering arbitrarily designated criminals is a logical law enforcement method.
By the end of the second film Nascimiento begins to realize the havoc that these ever-increasing spirals of violence can wreak, but it’s a pretty late turnaround for a couple of films that revel in them.
Either of these films stand well on their own, but you can really maximize your viewing pleasure by watching them back to back (at which point, double the beer recommendation). They’re chock full of corruption, betrayal, and revenge as well as more thought-provoking moral grey area than you can shake a stick at, all delivered in a City of God– style package. What are you waiting for?
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every drug deal and bust
Take a Drink: for every corrupt or constitutionally iffy cop action
Take a Drink: for every murder
Take a Drink: every time Nascimiento says “Homeboy”
Drink a Shot: for every heavy-handed leftist, commie, hippy comment