Thursday, October 27, 2011

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

It's sad, but (mostly) true: the action genre has devolved into a state which rarely produces both solid storytelling and effective action. Lucky for us, director Jose Padilha didn't get the memo. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within combines pulse-pounding action, unflinching political commentary, and compelling characters with fascinating moral dilemmas; it results not only in one of the best films of the year, but one of the best action movies in recent memory.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Director: Jose Padilha
Starring: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, Andre Ramiro

It's easy to see why this movie currently stands as the highest grossing movie of all time in South America (passing Avatar during its release last year): the movie features a complex web of political corruption that surely strikes a chord with the viewership down there. It's full of universal themes about brutality, human rights, the prison system, local government, and elections, so it's also easy to see how this movie is relevant to any nation, democratic or otherwise. Blending some story elements from City of God and The Departed with handheld Michael Mann-esque action sequences, Elite Squad: TEW cares just as much about its story as the action beats...and that's exactly how it should be. I don't mean to sound elitist (get it?!), but sometimes it's great to see a movie like this after seeing so many watered-down studio films year after year. If you watch as many movies as I do, you've likely grown to recognize the patterns of safe studio filmmaking, and movies like this - ones that break the mold a little bit - provide a cool breeze after bathing in the aroma of typical Hollywood sameness.

Nascimento (played by Wagner Moura, the Brazilian Mark Ruffalo) is the leader of BOPE, a special forces division in Rio de Janeiro that busts skulls to get things done; they're like the Expendables if those guys were actually awesome and not old. When a prison riot goes bad (a righteous setpiece in the first few minutes of the movie), Nascimento is moved into another position and, after discovering a sh*tload of high-level corruption, takes it upon himself to battle against the system. A left-wing professor named Fraga - coincidentally is married to Nascimento's ex-wife - runs parallel to our hero throughout the movie, becoming a thorn in his side not only because of his human rights complaints, but also because of the influence he has over Nascimento's son. (Don't worry - they could have overdone this plot point, but it's handled pretty perfectly.) Nascimento must come to grips with the realities of the political system in his country and do what he can to uncover the corruption before things get any worse.

For those of you completely averse to reading, I've got some bad news: there are subtitles. But the performances are so good, the visuals so striking, and the storytelling so engrossing that it shouldn't matter - this movie straight up kicks ass in all the right ways. The slums of Rio are presented similarly to their depiction in the excellent 2003 film City of God (the writer of that movie co-wrote this one, too), though not quite as slickly this time around; there's a lot more at stake here than the loss of one kid's innocence - the fate of the entire country hangs on the actions of Nascimento. Much of this movie is presented in such a smart way that it's honestly a bit shocking to experience, especially considering that if Blockbuster stores were still a big thing, you might have seen something like From Paris With Love sharing a shelf with Elite Squad: TEW. Guess which one actually belongs in the Dumpster out back?

If you've been disappointed with the releases of 2011 so far, check this one out. It'll give you a jolt of what movies are supposed to be like and remind you why you dig action movies in the first place. Until next time...


Panther Joe said...

Man, I put this on my queue right after I heard Vince talk about it on his site, but it was unavailable for months, so it's good to hear that the ball got rolling on this year and people are able to see it.

Sounds great!

Juliana said...

It's interesting to read a review from a North American point of view. I agree about the plot line and technical qualities of "Tropa de Elite". The Brazilian movie industry took a long time to encounter a good ground and it's getting there.

My only reservation to their work would be in a political stand, how some natives took the political background as absolutely true and not as an artistically work based on Rio de Janeiro of 5 or 7 years ago, as it should be regarded. But then again this does only showcase how Rio was default in real life for public figures that stand as example.

But I don’t even know if you watched the first movie released in 2007 (this is the second one and it builds up in the fighting corruption theme), If you haven’t seen it the thing that I could say is that at least this one is more accurate in pointing the villains (blaming politicians order than small criminals) and it actually bring up discussion of human rights and other ways of combating violence other than killing people as suggested in the original as for the Technical point of view this also has better action scenes.