Dir: Jose Padilha
Elite Squad is a story that revolves around Captain Nascimento from the Special Police Operation Battalion (BOPE) — set in 1997 before the Pope’s Rio visit. The Captain is frustrated and is looking for a way out as he is soon to be a father. His plans involve handing his load to someone else and taking over the training of new recruits. Meanwhile, Rio, as they say, is the city at war. The crime is at its peak and corruption is eating the police department from within. Which is why, along with Ct. Nascimento, this is the story of a few honest and not-so-honest cops trying to clean up the mess they all are a part of — as much as possible. However, apparently, the question is whether this is only to prove a point before the Pope visits or a significant step towards a corruption-free future?
Written by the Academy Award nominated screenplay writer of City of God, Braulio Mantovani, it gives you hopes for another similar masterpiece, but let me be upfront: it is not. The cinematography decently handles the inside-the-action feel as steady cameras are avoided at all possible instances. What could have been a gripping screenplay is tarnished by the persisting over-explanatory narration, which is full of wise comments about the system, the police, Rio, the crime, etc.
Choosing style over substance, the story is divided into chapters, explaining the characters and few chunks of events that are semi-fictional. Some of these chapters are worth being considered as capable of being called individual chapters, but as you go halfway through the movie, the categorization of these chapters stops making sense.
The film stylizes the police brutality in Rio, and quite effectively at that, as they struggle fighting the overwhelming wave of crime and their hollow, corrupt system, simultaneously. These struggles are evident in the training they provide and the way they treat their new recruits. Fortunately, by now, we get a sense that BOPE may not be as corrupt as the police force, and there may be some hope.
At many instances in the film, characters make bad choices, immature statements, and device faulty plans, but not as faulty as the story itself. Director Jose Padilha, as always, chose style over substance, ended up chasing City of God and tripped half way through. At instances, the movie appears to be making strong statements about the drug situation using some “cool” jargon, which like the rest of the movie disappears, eventually giving room to the glamorization of some police action and ending up as a mediocre revenge story.
In sum, the movie falls short of expectations, satisfies the glamour hunger, makes a few bold statements, but fails to cast a strong impression. At best, this is a mediocre attempt at making a Scorsesesce commentary at the crime and corruption in society. At worst, this is Jose Padilha’s desperate attempt at being “that cool director.”