Elite Squad: The Enemy Within makes its way to area theatres this weekend via Brazil in a kind of roundabout way. Not only does the film stand as the most financial successful cinematic outing in the country’s history, and as such it has been named as the country’s official selection for Academy Awards contention. The film is also a sequel to a 2007 original and director Jose Padilha has emerged as the leading candidate to helm the upcoming remake ofRobocop. Elite Squad comes from a good pedigree, but the movie itself is more interesting than entertaining.
Taking place in present day Rio, over ten years after the events depicted in the first film, leader of Brazil’s special police operations battalion (BOPE) Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) finds himself cleaning up a political mess following a violent prison standoff gone awry. Given a token promotion to a desk job in hopes of keeping him out of the spotlight but still on the payroll, Nascimento quickly gets caught up in a web of political intrigue involving local officials, dirty cops, and a politically aspiring human rights lawyer that’s not only at the heart of the botched prison raid, but also just so happens to be married to his ex-wife.
The film, somewhat inaccurately being pitched to audiences as an action film, is a more of a slow burning drama and political potboiler than the poster suggests. The film takes an almost aggressively Libertarian point of view that drives the intrigue of the story. Nascimento is a Dirty Harry style cop who even behind a desk believes that crime should be nipped in the bud before the accused can even make it to trial. The liberal opposition is too concerned with “rules” and “formalities” to come across as anything less than wimpy, while the conservative politicians in charge are really only tough on crime so they can profit from their own criminal endeavours. If the film had been written by Frank Miller and Nascimento was replaced by Batman, things wouldn’t turn out much differently. The film never shies away from its political leanings, but it sometimes goes about voicing them far too aggressively.
Padilha does manage to pull together a coherent story from a narrative line that could have very easily spiralled out of control in lesser hands. With changing alliances and everyone from local security to television pundits involved, the story feels a bit like a modern Rio based retelling of L.A. Confidential, but not nearly as entertaining. There isn’t a heck of a lot in Elite Squad that hasn’t been covered in previous films, and Padilha is perfectly content to take inspiration from a litany of other films. It’s okay for what it is, but it doesn’t have very much staying power.
Cast: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, André Ramiro
Directed by: José Padilha
Top image: A scene from Elite Squad: The Enemy Within.