Elite Squad II: The Enemy Within DVD Review

Presumably, the enemy within is the worst kind.

Once a corrupting force gets under your skin, or embeds itself in the machinations of a government as is the case in Elite Squad II, the battle to overcome it is sure to be long and arduous.

And even if the parasite is removed, it’ll no doubt take a piece of its host with it.

In Elite Squad II: The Enemy Within, the favela’s of Rio de Janeiro and the prisons of Brazil are envisioned by director Jose Padilha as microcosmic illustrations of a much larger and more depressingly unwieldy set of social ills. His film focuses on a corrupt and corrupting attitude that pervades the country’s drug trade, law enforcement and government.

This is a world where politicians win votes through large scale and highly publicised take-downs of organised crime rings, making examples of these criminals to bolster their campaigns. Meanwhile, the police who carry out these acts of “show justice” use the opportunity to seize a less than public-spirited kind of control over problem communities, where the desperation of the poor is easy to exploit.

Nothing is solved, and root causes are ignored.

Sound familiar? This may well be The Wire, with Baltimore swapped for Brazil. But comparisons cease at the subject matter. When it comes to execution, the two creations are poles apart.

Elite Squad II’s weakness is that, though ardent, it is cinematically bland. It strives to be both informative and intense, but unfortunately never manages to achieve both aims simultaneously.

Perhaps this is due to the hardly memorable characterisation. Notably grating is self-righteous university lecturer and human rights advocate Diego Fraga, whose social theorising and “down with the kids” campus humour gets the film off to a shaky start.

More convincing, but no less of a cliché, is Wagner Moura’s crusading Lieutenant-Colonel Nascimento; a former head of a truly terrifying Elite Squad known as BOPA.

Comparisons from other reviewers notwithstanding, this is not The Godfather. In plot, replete with domestic interludes which don’t so much explore as they do name drop the psychological influences behind the corruption, and in its many gunfights, Elite Squad II more closely resembles an episode of 24 than anything else.

What’s more, Padilha has filmed everything in hand-held, faux battlefield style. This now old hat technique is at best wearying and at worst nauseating, only serving to detract from the film’s manifesto.

And that manifesto? Callousness runs deep. Morality is the absent voice in Elite Squad II; and what the film most sorely misses is a dissection of the codes and motivations that govern in worlds that, though violent and shocking, are not surprising or entirely unrecognisable.

If Elite Squad II could have managed this, it might have left the kind of impact threatened by the eponymous police division’s own sinister motto; driving home its horrifying depictions like a knife through a human skull.

James Munroe

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Dates ‘n stuff

December 2011