Elite Squad (Tropa De Elite) film review

Wagner Moura as Captain Nascimento in Elite Squad
Wagner Moura as Captain Nascimento in Elite Squad
Elite Squad is director José Padilha’s follow-up to his widely acclaimed documentary Bus 174. The story follows Captain Nascimento (realistically played by Wagner Moura), a veteran member of BOPE, Brazil’s equivalent to S.W.A.T., only with tactics that include government-condoned violence and mayhem-creation. BOPE is a meticulously trained and widely feared super-elite Rio police squad engaged in daily conflict with crooked cops and heavily armed drug traffickers.

After being on the front lines of violence his entire career, Nascimento narrates his own search for a replacement to his command, as he plans to retire from the force, to spend time with his pregnant wife and their soon-to-be child.

Elite Squad at first seduces you into its brewing series of events, like sugar mixing into coffee, with starkly shot scenes of Brazil’s favelas (ghettos), and a proud people grasping at some sense of normalcy – having parties, dancing, parenthood and playing children’s street games, all through a daily bombardment of shootings, drug use, poverty, gang rule and police brutality. A brutality that becomes the storyline for the film, as the dichotomy of BOPE and it’s ideological members fight nearly everyone around them, including other police units, civilians, their familes, drug lords and even themselves.

As the movie unfolds, Nascimento focuses on two childhood friends as possible replacements, named Matias (played by André Ramiro), and Neto (Caio Junqueira), who are recent cadets in the military police. One is a straight arrow who studies at university to someday become a lawyer, and the other a hot-headed idealist prone to violence.

Scene from Jose Padilha’s Elite Squad
Scene from Jose Padilha’s Elite Squad
Over time, they become dismayed about the endless sea of corruption that surrounds them in every aspect of the police force. Eventually, the cadets’ paths intersect with Nascimento and when the soon-to-retire BOPE chief is chosen to lead a team of soldiers to secure the Turano Favela ahead of a visit by the Pope, the simmering storyline begins to boil over, with tension and violence acting as accelerant.

However, Elite Squad quickly proves that it’s much more than just an “action film”, as it bravely tackles, not only issues of police corruption, poverty and seemingly endless violence, but also faces head-on, the realities of how race can play a role in a person’s future in many parts of the world. The movie obliterates stereotypical character portrayals, with a conservative dark-skinned idealist, whose unafraid to face-down a group of wealthy “liberal” university students, during tension-filled class discussions about police brutality.

All this against a backdrop of richly shot cityscapes, bright-eyed women looking for a better life, innocent kids having childhoods stolen from them, and police training sequences that Navy Seals would steer clear of.

Elite Squad was co-written by Padilha, Academy Award nominated writer Bráulio Mantovani (City of God), and Rodrigo Pimentel, and is based on true accounts from Pimentel’s 19 years as a military police officer and captain.

Elite Squad starts a limited U.S. release today, Sept. 19, 2008.

Check out the trailer for Elite Squad below.