Review: Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite)

The Story

With a new born on the way, veteran squad leader Nascimento comes to terms with his own mortality and decides to retire.  First though, he must find a worthy replacement and that’s easier said than done.

The Review

Reader Note: I’ll be reviewing the second film in this series come next week so, look forward to that.

Director Jose Padilha has been tapped to direct the remake of the Robocop movie series so, we thought it was a good a time as any to dig into his oeuvre to see just what the fuss is about.

This first of 2 films in the Elite Squad series centers around Captain Nascimento who leads Brazil’s equivalent (and in many ways superior) to the American SWAT.  Essentially they are the best of the best police force and they’ve been trained to deal with Brazil’s unique brand of criminal thug.  If you’ve watched Brazil’s now infamous film, City of God, which incidentally had a screenplay written by the same guy who wrote this particular film then you’re familiar with the crime situation in Brazil.

For the uninitiated, Brazil’s thug culture comes with military grade weapons.  There’s a great documentary that accompanies the City of God DVD and it goes indepth on the real slums that inspired that film.  In particular, one of the stats that’s thrown around is the fact that Brazil’s ghetto ruffians have access to more military weaponry than many nation states.  So, it would stand to reason that any police force necessary to fight such a well armed menace would need to be trained to take on what essentially is an army.  In Elite Squad, the BOPE are that team.

Where City of God gives us a glimpse of life in the Brazilian ghetto, Elite Squad takes us into the lives of those who have to enforce the rule of law.  From the wide eyed rookies to the well seasoned company men like Nascimento, the film tries to give immerse the audience in the lives of the cops who must walk the most dangerous beat in the world.

It’s not surprising, but screenwriter Bráulio Mantovani does a solid job of realizing the characters and the world that the Elite Squad inhabit.  City of God set a high bar to clear for any crime drama, but Elite Squad makes a good effort keeping up.  Director Padilha coming from a documentary background seems to fall naturally into this, his first attempt at a regular plotted narrative.  The characters mostly feel fleshed out and three dimensional, with tensions and motivations occurring logically and honestly.  Something that can’t be said for many “action” films, in general.

The cinematography is very similar to that of City of God.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the same team worked on this picture.  It works, drawing us in to the hard hitting action and the intimate scenes.  On the whole, there’s very little complain about here.

Really, there’s not much to see at fault with this film.  Good casting, acting, story, action, and technical work.

Much like the world these characters inhabit, the films ends on a sobering note and the end of a gun barrel. It’s not a movie for these folks, it’s real life and life is short.


Overall an A



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