Monday, April 1, 2013

Movie Review: ELITE SQUAD (2007)

Elite Squad 2009 Review


Review by Gabriel

Review Score: 90% (Excellent)
Director: Jose Padihla
Genre: Action, Drama, Crime
Starring: Wagner Moura, André Ramiro, Caio Junqueira, Fernanda Machado
Runtime: 115
Rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language and drug content
1997, Rio de Janeiro. The streets are filled with murder and corruption. Drug trafficking is at an all time high. Things are so bad, that the police cannot handle it anymore, especially since most of them are corrupt as well. The answer to the city’s problems is given by BOPE, a paramilitary team that strikes where the police cannot and fight fire with fire. The story of "Elite Squad" ("Tropa de Elite") involves both the struggles of life on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and the inner-workings of BOPE, with both the style and narrative drive of movies like "Cidade de Deus". Director Jose Padihla, who broke out of anonimity with this movie, is presently directing the "Robocop" remake, a film that could use his style of filming violence and dark heroes.

There are a few characters the story focuses on. Captain Nascimento from BOPE whose work is starting to leave scars on his morale, and with the stress of his wife expecting a child, he finds himself wanting to get out of the team. Neto and Matias, childhood friends and idealistic policemen, who by trying to do the right thing, end up almost losing their lives in the war with corruption, so they decide to join BOPE, just in time as Nascimento needs to find someone to replace him. And that is the basic setup of the story.

Elite Squad Movie Still

The narrative threads are interweaved in a fragmented manner, and the story moves at a breakneck pace that might discourage unsuspecting viewers. Halfway through, though, the story starts to make its intentions clearer, and you can easily see how it settles into more conventional territory. It’s not that the story itself isn’t clear enough, but it kind of removes a lot of backstory that was probably there in the book, so there’s a lot of information that you have to read between the lines. It’s also very distracting, because it has some excellent cinematography, and choppy editing, reminiscent of "Cidade de Deus", that will make you forget to pay attention to the story. In terms of character development, I would say it does a wonderfull job of creating living and breathing characters that you can relate to and care for. Their inner turmoils, their struggle for survival, their love and friendship, is all painted in vivid colors. Most importantly, though this is a very violent, sometimes action oriented film, it does a great job of not losing its characterizations in a sea of blood and gunshots.

Wagner Moura as Captain Nascimento

To be perfectly honest, when I first heard the film won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, I rolled my eyes, and thought, "of course they would do that, because it’s clone of 'Cidade de Deus' with similar social themes". But as I watched it, I realized that the two films are completely different. They share only the cinematic style of telling the story, but the story itself and the issues it deals with are different in tone, especially because of the police thriller approach. This is a story that deals with violence and corruption in a harsher way. It’s also very straightforward about its "fight violence with violence" message. BOPE is not seen as an abusive force, but as necessary anti-heroes in a world gone crazy. It never tries to shutdown the issue, or turn to more liberal politics. It gives us a hard reality to swallow, regardless of out political convictions. Captain Nascimento and his men don’t care about politics. They hate corruption and will stop at nothing to erradicate it.



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