September 27, 2011

Foreign Flick: Elite Squad 1 & 2

"Elite Squad" is the spiritual sequel to "City of God" that you always knew you wanted, but you just didn't know how to find. What's that, you haven't seen "City of God," really, c'mon son, not only was it one the best films of the previous decade, it's one of the best films ever, but enough about that flick, we're talking about "Elite Squad" heya. Co-written by Braulio Mantovani,  the film is police thriller based on the BOPE, or the Special Police Operations Batallion in Rio de Janiero. And just like "City of God" it's unlike anything you've ever seen before.

Currently there are two "Elite Squad" films, but the second film "Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within" is getting some press as it has just been submitted for the foreign film Oscar for Brazil.  The films are lightning rods for controversy as they show the extent of corruption in Brazil and the shocking levels that the protagonist Colonel Nascimento (Wagner Moura) goes for justice. Nascimento is mix of Jack Bauer, Dirty Harry, and the Terminator. All he cares about is taking down the corruption and seeking justice. And "justice" is a key word here as while both films  feature heroic cops, thematically the film explores the need for justice and retribution in a corrupt society. Both films feature parallel story lines that focus on intellectuals and how they see the ruthless police in the eyes of "the system." It's very fluid and while it's often compared to HBO's masterful "The Wire," it is much more heavy handed, with Nascimento providing some crazy voice over for the bulk of the film that's something along the lines of this:

The intellectual's love to call me a fascist, but I'll still show up when the criminals come knocking down their door and they need protection.

Ahh, "fascist," this is a word that comes up frequently when discussing the "Elite Squad" films. Many reviews including one from Variety have labeled the film simple recruitment material for fascism. With  politicians portrayed as corrupt, intellectuals coming across as naive pansies, and that the only worth getting is the peace through superior firepower/torture mentality, it's easy to see how people believe this. Yet director Jose Padilha brings up a good point:
Did people say Coppola was a fascist for creating Michael Corleone? It’s clear that we don’t think torture is OK, we don’t approve of the way Captain Nascimento behaves. We’re just showing how it is – and in reality, it’s actually worse.” 
And while I haven't spent anytime in the slums of Rio, the films really do come across as how "it is." These are brutal, violent, gritty films that have are style that feels so real it's impossible for it to feel thrilled while watching it. Padilha's first film "Bus 174"  was a documentary about a bus hijacking in Rio and his knowledge of savage nature of the slums comes across in his films both in tone and production design.

With the sequel generating considerable press, the films are serving as launch-pad for all those involved. Padilha is already working on rebooting the "Robocop" franchise and the film's star (featured above) Moura is starring in Neill Blomkamp's follow up to "District 9" with Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Diego Luna. If you liked "City of God" you gotta check out these flicks, they are one that people are going to be talking about for a long time.

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