Capitao Nascimento (Wagner Moura)–a veteran of the BPOE (Special Police Operation Battalion) narrates the violently, explosive Brazilian film The Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite). When the film begins, the Captain is under a lot of pressure, and he’s beginning to lose his nerve for the everyday violent confrontations with criminals, drug dealers and crooked police officers. Against the backdrop story of the Pope’s impending visit, Nascimento must find a replacement due to his imminent reassignment to the training of new recruits. There are two candidates for the post: the impulsive Neto (Caio Junqueira) and the studious, serious Matias (Andre Ramiro).
Many Brazilian crime films focus on the seamy criminal life in this poverty-stricken country. The Elite Squad focuses on police corruption, and since the film is based on the memoirs of a former BPOE officer, there’s some amazing information here. Just watch the endless scenes of police corruption, and you will find yourself wondering how this country will ever pull itself out of the mire of poverty and crime. In some scenes, police fight over bribery turf, with several groups of officers strong-arming the same business owners, and in other scenes, police squad cars are stripped by officers who make a lucrative living selling the stolen car parts on the side.
The Elite Squad is a non-linear narrative, and the film begins with new police recruits Neto and Matias in the middle of a horrendous firefight. Then the film goes back to 6 months earlier to explain how these two men found themselves cornered under fire in the middle of a ghetto. This part of the story comprises the first half of the film. The second half of the film depicts Neto and Matias attending BPOE training and Nascimento’s selection of his replacement.
I found the first half of the film with its exploration of social issues riveting. One sub-theme, for example, is how the rich do-gooder kids pride themselves on their open mindedness and superior civic responsibilities etc and yet actively contribute to the drug trade. The second half of the film seems to be fairly standard fare and a glorification of the fascistic BPOE. The BOPE training camp makes GI Jane look like a holiday camp for sissies in comparison. Still if you are interested in Brazilian film and want to see Brazilian police corruption in its glory, then The Elite Squad is well worth catching. The scenes detailing police corruption, the scams and how they work the system–including the fiddling of the murder statistics were phenomenal. From director Jose Padilla.