- READER REVIEWS
Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite)
(No longer in theaters)
The Brazilian director José Padilha’s 2002 documentary Bus 174 told the story of a bus taken hostage by an unstable, underclass addict, and the carnage (all televised) that followed owing to police incompetence. It was the rare nonfiction film with the inevitability of classic tragedy, and it made you loathe violence. That’s not the case with Padilha’s Elite Squad, a fictionalized, sympathetic portrait of paramilitary brutality. The angle is ingenious. In this Rio, a city of 700 slums ruled by trigger-happy drug gangs and police on the take, the crackerjack elite squad—the BOPE—is the only viable agent of order. But its captain (Wagner Moura) longs for the warmth of his wife, pregnant with their son. To retire into the bosom of his family, he must train a replacement—which in this case means taking a young black man (André Ramiro) with a social conscience and transforming him into an “unforgiving” enforcer who tortures and kills with impunity.
The captain narrates in a punchy, journalistic style that gives Elite Squad an air of sociological realism—it bears a resemblance to viscerally exciting seventies urban thrillers like The French Connection, in which only the fascists could do what needed to be done. Padilha builds in checks and balances, scenes in which bope’s bloodshed is genuinely disgusting. But he reserves his true loathing for the lefty college kids who denounce cops while smoking (and dealing) dope—unconcerned with the blood shed for their high. This makes criticizing the film’s politics harder, because you don’t want to sound like the creeps.