Elite Squad II: The Enemy Within (2010)
Director: Jose Padilha
Cast: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, Andre Ramiro
Synopsis: After a prison riot, former-Captain Nascimento, now a high ranking security officer in Rio de Janeiro, is swept into a bloody political dispute that involves government officials and paramilitary groups.
Three years after his scathing look at corruption within the Brazilian police service and inter-gang warfare on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Jose Padilha returns to the same mean streets in a movie that is arguably a sequel by title only, as the complexion of Elite Squad II differs noticeably from that of the first movie. In a story set thirteen years after the original story, Wagner Moura returns to play Lt. Colonel Nascimento, head of the eponymous force of crack policemen, who finds himself forced to confront the corrupt nature of politics as well as policing when he is kicked upstairs after a prison siege situation goes violently wrong.
While Nascimento was the one overseeing the siege operation, which just happened to involve human rights activist — and lover of Nascimento’s ex-wife — Diogo Fraga (Irandhir Santos), it was his colleague Lt. Colonel Matias (Andre Ramiro — another survivor from the original movie) who killed a hostage-taking prisoner just as he had agreed to give up his hostages, thus creating a national scandal, spearheaded by Fraga, which results in Nascimento’s ‘promotion.’ Meanwhile, the results of Nascimento’s earlier dissolution of the drugs cartels leaves a criminal vacuum which is quickly filled by a new breed of corrupt police officers, led by Major Rocha (Sandro Rocha), in league with high-ranking local government officials who are more concerned with ensuring their continuing tenure of office in election year rather than clearing the ‘system’ that threatens to destabilise life in the impoverished barrios.
While Elite Squad is easily the equal of its predecessor, comparisons are complicated somewhat by the fact that the storylines are so different (obviously not a bad thing). This movie seems to take much of its inspiration from political thrillers such as Z (1969), rather than the City of God gang culture of the first movie. Nascimento is a morally complex character, to whom the protection of the people sometimes seems secondary to political expediency, and he’s sometimes not too easy to like — although he’s never as thoroughly nasty as the movie’s bad guys, who border on cartoonish villainy at times — even though his true colours finally shine through in the end. This is the kind of movie that won’t appeal to those moviegoers who prefer their heroes and villains to be clearly delineated, which normally points to a commendable degree of reality. But the sheer scale of Padilha’s ambition proves to be his undoing to some degree: the story he’s trying to tell would benefit from the kind of running time that only a TV mini-series could provide, which means key elements sometimes appear to have been glossed over.