Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

Film review by: Witney Seibold


José Padilha began his career as a documentarian, trying to expose police corruption in his native Brazil. He made incendiary films like “Bus 174,” which detailed a horrible botched police incident in Rio de Janeiro, and “Brazil’s Vanishing Cowboys,” also about ineffectual policemen. His first fictional feature, “Elite Squad” followed a semi-military elite squad of supercops, led by Lt. Colonel Nascimento (Wagner Moura), who was hard-working, job-minded, and incorruptable, as he uncovered the true dirtiness of the cops in his precinct. I think it’s safe to say that Padilha has a definite political agenda, and has a great deal of cynicism toward the way local policemen take wholesale advantage of the favelas and impoverished in his country for their own ends. Evidently, there’s a lot of drug skimming, police-controlled crime rings, and other horrors being perpetrated by the supposed lawgivers.


Padilha’s second narrative feature is a sequel to his first, and “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within” only expounds on that theme of corruption, extending it to include local media moguls, TV show hosts, and, of course, higher-up politicians. Padilha may have something of a nihilistic view when it comes to the presence of law enforcement, but it’s refreshing to think that he’s made a film to feature a pure-hearted hero who can solve just about any corruption problem with hard work, a good deal of tenacity, and a refusal to let the bad guys get away with it. “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within” plays a bit like “L.A. Confidential” or perhaps “City of God” (indeed, it was edited by Daniel Rezende, who edited that film), but with a good deal of Telemundo mixed in. It’s a very alluring blend of earnest and gritty crime analysis, and totally over-the-top crime melodrama, punctuated by a few really spectacular stunts, and outraged righteous heroes that can be, in all fairness, compared with the Freedom Fighters of Reagan’s action movie era. 


The story is twisty and turny, and it actually takes us about 30 minutes of screentime just giving us complicated flashbacks setting up the action. A few things are happening: For one, Lt. Nascimento has been promoted to a desk job against his will, following the gunning and badassery of the first film. Second, his closest associate in The Elite Squad, a.k.a. BOPE, a.k.a. The Skulls, has been imprisoned for his involvement in a prison shooting and the subsequent media lambasting he took. Third, a fat right-wing talk show host is trying to get BOPE disbanded. Fourth, a mayor is running for re-election. Fifth, a left-wing extremist (Irandhir Santos) is trying to get BOPE disbanded. Sixth, that same left-wing extremist has moved in with Nascimento’s ex-wife and son, threatening to become the primary parent. And that’s just the backstory.


Eventually, Nascimento is allowed to expand BOPE’s influence from his desk, and puts and end to the drug trade in most of the favelas, thinking that, in doing so, he’ll end the cream-skimming in the corrupt ends of the police department. Instead, however, the corrupt cops (represented by the blonde bully Milhelm Cortaz) start diversifying, and dipping into local water markets, stolen cable TV, and other less conventional ares of crime. In order to keep up their empire, the corrupt cops, in a slimy and barely noticeable circle of influence, enlist the local mayor and the right-wing talk-show host into their circles. Nascimento becomes increasingly frustrated, and increasingly endangered the more he uncovers, and the more he tries to stop it.


There’s something Sisyphusian about Nascimento’s quest. Every time he thinks he’s exposed the real bad guy, or come up with a shatter-proof plan to get the bad guys trapped, the bad guys reconfigure, regroup, and slime their way deeper into corruption. It’s a vicious cycle. Luckily, Padilha seems to have faith in his hero, and the bad guys do get some comeuppance. Some.


This is a brisk, eventful, and great-looking film. Like I said, it may be a little dark and a little hopeless, but it’s ultimately a fantastic detective story with large, over-reaching, and doggedly earnest political sentiments.


On a personal note: There are several judo tournaments throughout the film, as Nascimento’s son is a competitor. As someone who took judo classes from ages 7-12, and having competed myself in several tournaments, I can say with certainty that the matches were authentic, and the judo real. I tire of fake martial arts in my movies. This one bothered to get this detail exactly right.

Published in: on June 28, 2011 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Judo?! Nice! 🙂 I guess I’ll have to watch it.

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