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The Past | The Previous

Elite Squad: the Enemy Within

I don't know how I came across Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, but I did, and despite the terrible name of the film, I'm actually glad of that.

Set in Rio de Janeiro, Jose Padilha's sequel to the 2007 Elite Squad is a violent, relatively intelligent but fatalistic crime film that explores the nature of systematic corruption through various levels of life in Brazil. It opens with the film's narrator, Colonel Nascimento, played by Wagner Moura, leaving a hospital, only to be attacked while on the street. During that attack, he explains how he has reached this position, beginning with what is, honestly, an excellent stand off in a prison between gangs, military police, and an activist, Diogo Fraga, played by Irandhir Santos.

In an early part of the film, Nascimento states that Fraga calls him as a fascist, and it is this conflict, between the desire for Nascimento to use a violent, military trained organisation to remove drug cartels and corruption, vs Fraga's intellectual awareness that crime does not emerge empty handed, but is funded in economics and need and greed, that forms the backbone of the film. After the botched killing of the inmates, political pressure forces politicians not to fire Nascimento, but to promote him, allowing him to create a larger force that he can use to sweep through the sections of Rio controlled by drug cartels. His theory is that if you squeeze the cartels, you squeeze the corrupt cops, and so on and so forth, which results in a cleaner system--however, this isn't what happens. Instead, the corrupt cops kill the sellers, and take over the neighbourhoods, selling cable TV, gas, and etc, bringing in more money, more control, and a new corruption. All that Nascimento has succeeded in doing is cutting off the low end of the corruption, and in a reoccurring statement throughout the film, the system (the corruption) adapts, fixes itself, and continues to exist.

The true success of the film is its ability to convey the system, and to convey it in a manner that doesn't link it to one individual. From corrupt cops, to corrupt politicians, to both Nascimento and Fraga themselves, the system takes in everyone, and it is much to Padhila's credit that he manages to maintain that, even to the end, when Nascimento sees what he has created with his organisation and tries to bring it down.

It's not a badly made film on all levels, actually. Moura's aging, uncompromising Nascimento makes a fine centre of the film, and his transition from utter belief to the realisation of what he is against is well done. Other characters around him tend to suffer a little from not having enough space to develop. Santos' Fraga has a great introduction to the film, but he falls to the sidelines as the film progresses. Likewise, Andre Ramiro's Mattias, who forms an emotional core of the film for Nascimento, relies heavily on the previous film to demonstrate their bond (this would be the one thing in the film that suggests you watch the first, but it's still not necessary) and while the second emotional core, Nascimento's relationship with his son, is better developed, there's not a whole lot to do with it. And, the one female character in the film, Nascimento's ex-wife, really isn't defined by much more than her status as the ex and mother of his son. So, there are problems with the film in that regard.

But ultimately, it's a good film, put together well and with a touch of style. Worth a look if you're curious.