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Patrolling City of God

Elite Squad (2007)

David John Prichard/The Weinstein Company

The Brazilian crime drama “Elite Squad” – winner of the Golden Bear at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival – has generated plenty of controversy thanks to its supposed fascist leanings. While it does in some fashion celebrate the brutal, repressive tactics of BOPE – Rio de Janeiro’s elite police squad – José Padilha’s work just as openly questions the personal and psychological destruction brought on by membership in the unit. The problem with the movie is not its ideology, but the fact that it never breaks free from the most clichéd mold in Brazilian cinema: a story focused on cops, guns, drug runners and Rio’s favelas.

Narrated by Capitão Nascimento (Wagner Muras), the film follows rookie policemen Matias (André Ramiro) and Neto (Caio Junqueira) as they become the front runners to replace him at BOPE. The screenplay – co-written by Messrs. Padilha, Bráulio Mantovani and Rodrigo Pimentel (also a co-author of the source novel) – mostly consists of repeated police incursions into city slums, lots of gunfights and plenty of tough guy posturing that passes for dialogue. More interestingly, Matias spends his free time at law school. In the scenes set therein, Mr. Padilha raises a theme central to the national discourse, one that the movie should have explored further. He begins to provocatively examine the divide between two of the worlds at the heart of modern Brazilian life: that of the police officers and impoverished population interacting within the city’s slums and the world inhabited by the privileged students who think they know more about the former than they do.

Had he replaced the plethora of conventions – the quick cut hand-held action scenes, gritty yellowish-green discolored look and pans over the city’s hillsides – and instead focused entirely on Matias’s curricular experiences, Mr. Padilha might have had something here. There’s an insightful movie waiting to burst free. Unfortunately, it’s been buried in a narrative more notable for its conventions than its provocations. “Elite Squad” ought not be considered outrageous or controversial. More than anything, it’s boring.


Opens on Sept. 26 in Manhattan and on Aug. 8 in Britain.

Directed by José Padilha; written (in Portuguese, with English subtitles) by Mr. Padilha, Bráulio Mantovani and Rodrigo Pimentel; director of photography, Lula Carvalho; edited by Daniel Rezende; music by Pedro Bromfman; production designer, Tulé Peake; produced by Mr. Padilha, Mr. Mantovani and Marcos Prado; released by IFC Films (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Wagner Moura (Capitão Nascimento), André Ramiro (André Matias), Caio Junqueira (Neto) and Milhem Cortaz (Capitão Fábio).


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