I just love a good 'ol cops and robbers movie, and Elite Squad shows that it indeed is a generous cut above the rest, and along the way had snagged the Golden Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival. If you’re in for some gritty looking no holds barred movie that reflects the dangerous occupation of honest cops making a living in what’s technically a war zone with the criminals, then look no further than this movie.
The movie works itself on many levels, having its narrative flow giving equal opportunity to each of its subject matter. On the surface, it looks very much like Hollywood’s SWAT, but only much better, with its induction and training program where rookies get groomed from the mediocre to the cream of the crop in their attempts to join the BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, or Special Police Operations Battalion), and on another level it tells of the friendship between two newcomers to the police force, where they’re face with 3 options in an organization where corruption Is rampant – join in, turn a blind eye, or wage war. An additional level which held the movie throughout its different subplots is that of the headache when it comes to management succession.
When you’re doing a good job, you find it difficult to either let go, or if you’ve come to terms with the inevitable of leaving the job that you like, finding someone appropriate to take over. It’s like a father who intrinsically almost always disapproves of their daughter’s boyfriends. Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) has this dilemma, being the leader of the crack Alpha team, he found that for the good of his family he has to leave the highly dangerous job where death is just around the corner each time they go on their missions. But in order to do so, and to ensure his men have someone able and competent to step up and replace him, he has to find new blood.
Thus the story of two rookies, Neto (Caio Junqueira) and Andre Matias (Andre Ramiro), who are best of friends, but whose characters are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Neto’s a hothead and acts on impulse, qualities not befitting of team players, but you cannot discount his courage. Andre’s a lot more calculative and restraint, but in dwelling too much on decision making, might not be able to act decisively. These were the two options best left for Nascimento, given the rest are either corrupt or inept to have made it through the tough training.
Between Neto and Andre, the latter has a lot more pathos crafted into his character, such as his ambition in being a lawyer after his uniformed stint, and this character was also based loosely on the consultant for the movie. What I particularly liked his character was how he subconsciously turned into the stereotypical view the citizens have of the cops – of being violent, unreasonable and corrupt, that save for the latter, he unwittingly becomes transformed into that mold, a disillusioned turn against his idealistic viewpoint of what a cop stands for, of becoming one of many misunderstood, honest cops.
The BOPE are no angels, and are quite heavy handed in their ways, though one could also argue that extreme methods and operations are totally justifiable when in a “war zone” dealing with criminals armed to the teeth who have no hesitation to shoot first and to kill. Simon Yam might have left a memorable impression with his repetitive bitch slapping of a gangster at an arcade in PTU, but here, such slapping gets ten times worse with the hairdryer effect too. The BOPE officers knows no gentle negotiation techniques, with arsenals such as the use of deadly force, interrogation through the use of incessant slaps and the plastic bag for suffocation, and if the suspect still doesn’t crack, there’s still the good old broomstick shoved into the rear.
Action junkies would find that Elite Squad has no lack of set action pieces, though you might find yourself clamouring for more. These guys are highly trained and bears no qualms in exercising deadly force with no remorse, and when their skull end knives emblem comes rolling around, criminals flee in fear. Given that this is set in the gritty streets of Rio de Janeiro, the shaky cam seems impossible not to be utilized, so if you’re those who feel nauseous at the erratic movement of the camera, you might want to take the necessary precautions.
For me, it’s not often always to have a movie like this work on all fronts, from acting to action to a tightly designed and layered narrative. If I were to recommend a movie about cops, then Elite Squad would join the ranks of personal favourites like PTU and Heat. Highly recommended!