Elite Squad 2 Reveals Harsh Realities

Elite Squad 2 (Tropa de Elite 2) is more than just a sequel to Brazilian Blockbuster and Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear winner Elite Squad – it is also an important and courageous film that finally exposes in a very crude and realistic manner Rio’s, and probably Brazil’s, biggest problem: the corrupt system that controls it.

The film revolves completely around Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) who, 15 years into the story, is BOPE’s Lieutenant Colonel supervising the troops under the command of his former trainee, and Elite Squad protagonist, Captain André Matias (André Ramiro). But this time the plot goes past the internal workings of the Battalion, bringing forth an intricate corruption system involving the Public Safety Department, the Military Police and paramilitary groups known as “Miltia”.

What we see in the second film is a more mature Nascimento who, torn between his duties as an officer and father to an ever distancing teenage son (Pedro Van Held), starts to question his life’s work and BOPE’s role in Rio de Janeiro as he realizes just how dirty the hidden agenda behind all of the official organs really is. Actor Wagner Moura once again does a brilliant job by bringing visible depth and several layers to a character who tries so hard to keep a tough exterior as his world collapses – the Nascimento we see by the end of the film barely resembles the ruthless captain whose extremely questionable tactics caused both admiration and disgust in Brazilian audiences three years earlier. Elite Squad 2 is definitely less bloodier than the first film: the violence this time is much more moral than physical – which, in my opinion, makes it even stronger.

For co-writer Braulio Mantovani (Elite Squad, City of God), the choice to put Nascimento under the spotlight from the start is the reason for the film’s success. In an interview for Brazilian magazine VEJA, he stated that it was Moura’s superb acting that turned Captain Nascimento, originally a peripheral character in the screenplay, into the star of the 1st film. “I consider Elite Squad 2 to be much better than the first film because we learned from our mistakes” he said.

Actually, director José Padilha’s successful sequel seems like an attempt to put a lid on the whole “fascist” controversy that followed the first movie. By bringing a “big picture” approach to the same theme, the sequel strengthens his argument that the first film was a slice of something much bigger and, as he put it several times, “a film about choices, with no moral judgement”.

This change in perspective adopted by the film-makers is personified in the character Diogo Fraga (played by Irandhir Santos and inspired by real-life politician Marcelo Freixo), a human rights activist and politician who starts out as Nascimento’s personal nemesis and ends up acknowledged by the Lt. Col himself as being the single voice of reason among a chaotic scenery.

The approach seems to have worked wonders – attacking a system identified as failing by pretty much all of the country’s population and exposing it as the cause for all of the violence that shocked so many in the first movie, was a very smart choice.

According to Brazilian Sociologist Antonio Engelke, PhD in Social Science by PUC-Rio, Elite Squad 1 “quenched a frightened population’s thirst for vengeance”, hence Nascimento’s rise to national hero status. In his opinion, that extremely violent code of conduct wasn’t questioned because, ultimately, the character did on screen what Rio’s elite would like to do themselves: kill the “bad guys”. Engelke believes the second film to be far more complex because “it reveals that the public safety strategy created in the first film was indeed part of the problem, not the solution – leaving those who applauded the captains antics in Elite Squad with a bitter aftertaste”. Although he still considers the film to promote a “do it yourself” approach to justice (this comment related to one specific scene towards the end of the film), he does acknowledge the creator’s innovation in addressing Rio’s urban violence issue through a policeman’s perspective – all previous films stuck to the criminals’ or victims’ stories.

Released in Brazil in 2010, Elite Squad 2 was seen by more than 1.25 million spectators during its first weekend, making it the biggest ever opening for a Brazilian movie. Those who haven’t had a chance to see the first part don’t need to worry – despite being a sequel, the film is completely self-contained. Violent, biased, fascist, call it what you will – at the end of the day Elite Squad 2 is a hell of a movie which deserves full credit for stirring up debates on important issues like no other before it. It is a “reality-tinted” work of fiction whose strong, disturbing, story surpasses the theatre and follows us all the way home.

by Rafaela Miranda Rocha

Elite Squad 2 will be released as Elite Squad: The Enemy Within and will be in UK cinemas from 12th August 2011.

Here’s a clip from the film:

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