Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

A super-violent cop cleans up the streets of Rio, but at what cost?

B Political thriller

  • Written by Bráulio Mantovani and José Padilha
  • Directed by José Padilha

Captain Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) strongly believes in killing "scumbags." And as an officer in Rio’s militaristic Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE), he gets plenty of chances. This violent, gun-happy, rightwing cop is going to learn a lot over the course of this crime thriller–a huge box office hit in its native Brazil.

Nascimento is both the movie’s protagonist and its narrator. We see everything from his point of view. When Nascimento’s voice-over encourages the audience to hate someone, you have to wonder if the filmmakers feel the same way.

The street gangs and drug dealers don’t seem to bother him anywhere near as much elite_squadas Diego Fraga (Irandhir Santos), a liberal professor who wants to address the root causes of street crime and opposes excessive violence. To make matters worse, Fraga is now married to Nascimento’s ex-wife and heavily influencing his semi-estranged son.

A prison riot changes both men’s fortunes for the better. Fraga goes into politics, and Nascimento is promoted into a powerful desk job. Once there, he can finally allow the police to wipe out the drug trade once and for all by whatever means he’s willing to use–and he’s willing to use all of them. The result? He unintentionally replaces one set of thugs with a new, better organized, and more violent group of criminals, and this time they carry badges.

José Padilha knows how to direct action scenes. The many gunfights, chases, and other physically exciting moments are fast-paced and entertaining in a well-done but conventionally Hollywood way.

Be warned: This is an extremely violent picture. Blood flows freely from gunshot wounds, fistfight wounds, and whatever other wounds Padilha could think of. Even the "good guys" commit shockingly violent acts on people unable to defend themselves, although the bad guys (no need for quotes) do far worse.

Although it’s not being advertised as such here in the States, Elite Squad is a sequel. The original Portuguese title even contains a 2. The film worked fine for me despite my never having seen the original.

It opens Friday at the 4-Star.