Elite Squad
(Tropa de Elite)

Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite)
Made in: Brazil
Language: Portuguese
Director: José Padilha
Starring: Wagner Moura, Caio Junqueira, André Ramiro, Fernanda Machado, Milhem Cortaz, Fábio Lago
Year: 2007

Synopsis: In preparation of the Pope's visit to Rio de Janeiro in 1997, the authorities were tasked with eliminating the threat posed by the drug dealers and thugs operating in the surrounding slums close to John Paul II's lodgings.

Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) is the one with the unenviable assignment of spearheading the harrowing operation. He's part of the Special Police Operation Battalion (BOPE), a paramilitary-like force that is the only organization capable of scaring the heavily armed drug dealers plaguing the city.

Although dedicated and highly skilled, the job has taken a huge psychological and emotional toll on Nascimento. Now a new father, he looks to step down from the streets and work as an instructor for new recruits. But first, he must find a suitable replacement.

At the same time, Neto (Caio Junqueira) and André (André Ramiro) are two idealistic rookie cops hoping to make a difference. But they are immediately discouraged when they witness the incompetence and blatant corruption of the many police officials they answer to.

Undeterred in their integrity, the two eventually cross paths with Nascimento's team during a bloody shootout one evening. Eventually they're recruited to BOPE, the only place where clean cops are found. Soon Neto and André find themselves enduring the Elite Squad's grueling training regimen, which BOPE instructors claim is even tougher than the Israeli Army's.

Nascimento finds that he only has two choices as a replacement. One is the hot-headed, trigger-happy Neto who is too impulsive. And the other is the intellectual André, who is more measured but may not be quick enough on his feet.

But circumstances that befall both Neto and André bring out a side to both men that surprise even the hardened Elite Squad Captain.

The Good: Based on the book by André Batista and written by Bráulio Mantovani (who penned City of God), Elite Squad is an intense and gripping film that offers a realistic, big-picture view of Rio de Janeiro's drug war.

In a very detailed, engrossing way, director Jose Padilha makes a compelling case that the city's many ills are in part shared by all facets of society. Sure, the drug dealers peddle coke and weed, but enough people in the middle class (who would never think to go near the slums) are the ones buying and financially enabling the criminals.

The underpaid street cops resort to corruption either out of greed or fear, and the cycle of degeneration forces BOPE officers to resort to brutal tactics (like knee-capping) in order to keep the situation somewhat under control. Jose Padilha takes a "tell it like it is" approach rather than skewing the story in favor of one social point of view over another.

In addition to a great storyline, Elite Squad is also a very well-acted, moving character piece. Also, the film is very well- structured and perfectly paced.

The Bad: Because of many hand-held camera shots and quick editing, following this movie while reading subtitles at the same time is very challenging, especially if you don't watch too many foreign films.

Who would like this movie: Elite Squad is for you if you're into urban dramas, and this is definitely up your alley if you liked City of God. It's intense and very brutal, so be prepared to stomach a lot of violence if you decide to check it out. But at its core, this is a superbly directed film with a well thought-out, believable story.

(4 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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