You Can't Handle This!
I was hoping that Elite Squad 2 would get a commercial screening in Singapore, but if not then it made a welcome appearance during this year's SIFF, and while it can be watched as a standalone film, you'll appreciate the challenges faced by the principal characters a lot more if you've watched the original, where BOPE leader Nascimento (Wagner Moura) and his squad got introduced with the primary plot revolving around his tough training of two up and coming proteges in the squad which had powers to eliminate enemies of the drug trade with deadly force. It became one of my favourite shows that year and of its genre, and I'm glad that the sequel went one up without repeating itself, tackling problems in Rio De Janeiro that are of a wider scale, exploring just how deep the rabbit hole of corruption in the city goes.
Starting with a cliffhanger where Nascimento, now Lt Colonel with added years to his age with a hint of grey at the sides of his head, got caught up between a rock and a hard place, we then journey some months back which writer-director Jose Padilha, returning for this film, outdid himself with tightly choreographed, intensely shot action sequences within a high security prison where inmates took over with force and are out to eradicate enemies within the prison where enclaves sprung up. You'll notice that the shaky cam cinematography in its predecessor got toned down a lot in this follow up film, which is nice. From that botched attempt of now Captain Andre Matias (Andre Ramiro) disobeying orders from the top but with public sentiments on a high for the no-nonsense approach by the BOPE, Nascimento got moved out of the Skulls and into politics, becoming under-secretary of Intelligence in charge of all wire-tapping activities by the authorities, while Andre himself got moved back to becoming a lowly beat cop.
It's a very major departure from the premise of the first film, if you've come with expectations that you'll get to see action sequence after action sequence punctuated by violence, because this installment is a more cerebral take on the problems plaguing the city, and a more macro-level approach as well involving crooked politicians and their support system beneath them that fuels a very symbiotic relationship between the corrupt leaders and their underlings, moving away from drug cartels, to wider and ruthlessly effective organized crime involving what some say are the largest gangsters around, the police force, in far more lucrative illegal trade fueled by the slums they're supposed to protect. And these problems go to show that if a system is corrupt it'll take some humongous effort to clean it up, if one can find a foothold to begin from that is, which is what Elite Squad 2 is mostly about, the few and rare good men who are willing to step out and stand up to be counted, even though they're battling on different fronts and may not share the same belief system.
Jose Padilha balanced political intrigue, crime and action without forgetting the emotional core that had also level-set the first film. Nascimento's son is all grown up now but remains estranged from his dad because he cannot comprehend why Nascimento had to kill in his line of duty. And as if that's not enough, his wife is now romantically linked with his professional nemesis Fraga (Irandir Santos), who with his non-government organization championing human rights, becomes the thorn in his side for frequently undermining BOPE's tactics and strategy that you would have seen from the first film, and in a way something like how director Padilha seeks to address detractors of that film. Things also get patchy between mentor and mentee especially when Andre sees Nascimento being unable to reinstate his position back in BOPE, but others working through a network of connections are able to, which sort of brings forth a moral dilemma of being beholden to someone, especially when links to the mob comes into play.
Wagner Moura keeps up his charismatic performance as the one man tour de force with a riveting performance as a leader anyone will want to follow, with courage and sometimes obsessed conviction in being married to his job and taking it upon himself as the city's saviour and scourge of the city's criminals, even if they happen to be white collared and in positions of power. Granted you'll miss watching him in action leading his men on raids as he becomes assigned to a desk job, but there's no lack of intensity in his newly minted career path, seeing it as opportunity to resource load his old unit to do a lot more than he imagined, though indirectly responsible for slicing off the head of a hydra he had yet to fully understand.
While action sequences are limited, there is no lack of excitement and edge of your seat moments where everything kicks into high gear, best played out in a hall with a properly tuned sound system that puts you in the thick of all the action. One can only hope for a follow up film if there's another strong story to be told given that loose ends still exist, the problems in the real world never actually going away and the system is one big monster that is constantly evolving and evading eradication, which will probably take generations to effect real change, but for action junkies and fans of police films, having Nascimento back for another film will indeed be a welcome treat. I can actually listen to an audio book narrated by Wagner Moura and not get bored at all, since it is his narration that fills in the blanks in this film and moves it forward. Highly recommended!
P.S. Unfortunately this screening got interrupted twice at Lido 2, which seriously needs to take a good hard look at root causes to marred screening experiences yesterday and today.