Directed by: Jose Padilha || Produced by: Marcos Prado
Screenplay by: Jose Padilha, Braulio Mantovani || Starring: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, Andre Ramiro, Milhem Cortaz, Andre Mattos, Maria Ribeiro
Music by: Pedro Bromfman || Cinematography by: Lula Carvalho || Edited by: Daniel Rezende || Country: Brazil || Language: Portuguese
Running Time: 116 minutes
Readers may remember my earlier review of the original 2007 Elite Squad (ES, also known as Tropa de Elite), one of my favorite recent crime dramas and arguably the most famous and brutal film to come out of Brazil in the past decade. While foreign film fans from America generally prefer the standard impoverished gangster fare a la City of God (2002, written by Braulio Mantovani, co-writer of ES and Elite Squad 2) and film critics tend toward quieter, more introspective Brazilian cinema like Neighboring Sounds (2012), the likes of Jose Padilha’s sardonic, rough-as-hell crime dramas are for those who like their police beat-downs served red hot.
Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within (TEW) remains the highest grossing film in Brazil after the amazing hype train of the first film, though unfortunately it doesn’t reach the action-packed heights of the original. Compared to its 2007 predecessor, TEW trades the day-in, day-out grind of Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE, the state of Rio de Janeiro’s equivalent to American SWAT) procedure and street justice for a far less believable, borderline fantastical plot of corrupt police takeovers; it discards beloved older characters for cheap new villains and comical Fox News-type skits. Anybody who tells you that TEW is better than the original Tropa de Elite needs to have their eyes and ears checked.
That being said, TEW is in many ways the natural response to the 2007 original given how the latter stirred such indignant controversy and critical uproar with its depiction of the upper middle-class liberal left and extrajudicial police force. Elite Squad prompted many Western critics to label it “fascist” or extreme right-wing, supposedly endorsing police brutality and paramilitary warfare. TEW’s thesis is basically a response to that, saying, “No, no, no, this is what fascist police look like!” While the first Elite Squad maintained a more general cynicism toward police corruption, middle-class naivety, and poverty-stricken crime, TEW turns its eye on the cause of those symptomatic societal problems. The theme this time around is political corruption and the devastating hold that it can have on law enforcement.
It’s an admirable message and a suiting thematic follow-up to Padhila’s first ES, but unfortunately the way much of the story is presented and many of the plot devices border on complete incredulity. What happens in TEW is essentially that BOPE manages to eradicate much of Rio de Janeiro’s gangs after Padhila is promoted to a high-ranking public safety position. This cuts into the cash flow of numerous corrupt police, who afterwards figure out ways to profit off of extensive protection and extortion rackets in favelas throughout the city. This scheme is tied into several ambitious politicians who use illegal crime-control networks to gain further political power, and the story becomes increasingly convoluted and unbelievable from there.
I’m not saying these sorts of things don’t happen in Brazil (or other places for that matter), I’m no expert on the subject, but the manner in which these various hair-brained strategies unfold and the lack of extensive characterizations within them feel half-baked. The story is more erratic and confusing than even City of God’s, and the extreme actions taken by numerous characters feel as dumb as the faked serial-killer murders on the last season of The Wire (2002-2008).
The positive flip-side of this conspiracy theorist plot is the family drama surrounding lead actor Wagner Moura, who once again is the main selling point of Tropa de Elite. Though he is inexplicably divorced and estranged from his immediate family at the beginning of the film, Moura’s relationship with his wife and son and the way that relationship is more centric to this sequel’s story adds valuable weight to Moura’s arc and character growth. Though the larger story around him is much weaker this time around and Andre Ramiro’s previously important supporting character is essentially written out of the film, Moura himself remains the most magnetic and interesting aspect of these movies.
To that end, Moura’s arc and the ending of the story are pretty darn satisfying. Despite all the rough edges around the confusing plot, it ends at the right time and in the right way, almost making up for the otherwise pretty disappointing sequel up to that point. Moura lays the smack-down the way only he can, and the final narrated monologue is haunting stuff.
So, as a whole, TEW is one of the most disappointing sequels I’ve seen in quite a while, but it has enough redeeming moments and a great main character to justify a viewing. Given Brazil’s penchant for ripe crime-dramas and cinematic sociopolitical analysis, I can’t see myself recommending this particular one over the plethora of much better options out there. If you wanna see more hardcore favela violence and Brazilian law enforcement politics, I suppose this will suffice, but honestly I’d rather just rewatch the original Elite Squad instead. Oh well.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Wagner Moura is the singular well-written centerpiece that holds this movie together. His estranged familial relationships deepen his character considerably, and his narration remains as captivating as ever. Rio’s landscapes and gangland dystopia are beautiful, and the tense, exciting editing from the first film returns here in earnest, keeping the film’s pace fast and efficient.
— However…. The Enemy Within’s story is hopelessly convoluted and unrealistic. Ramiro’s character is shamelessly wasted in the most frustrating sequel-death since Hicks and Newt in Aliens (1976).
—> ON THE FENCE; this may be the most disappointing sequel since Alien 3 (1992). There is plenty of artistic merit to be had here, but the film’s premise is so unbelievably ludicrous and its characters so one-note that it’s hard to recommend to any wide audience.
? Well, I’m done.