It should have. Had I seen it before now, it handily would have made my list of 2011s top 10 films. It matters not that Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a sequel to a 2007 film Im not certain I knew existed; director/co-writer José Padilhas work is powerful and extraordinary on its own.
The titular organization is BOPE, Rio de Janeiros version of our SWAT. Heading up its command is Lt. Col. Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura, Woman on Top), and their latest emergency assignment comes at a maximum-security penitentiary where members of the drug cartels not killed by the government are held, each of three sequestered in its own wing to keep them from killing each other. One crooked cop is paid enough money by one cartel head to smuggle in a gun, and the result is utter carnage, which human-rights activist Fraga (Irandhir Santos) uses to his media advantage.
In Hollywood, the prison siege alone could make for an entire movie. But here, its a mere extended prologue that sets a larger chess game in motion. Thats how epic in scope this picture is. Although Padilha expertly stages his action sequences, hes less concerned with them than he is with their consequences across levels of society.
For example, although Lt. Col. Nascimento becomes popular with the public, the bought-and-paid-for governor discharges him from BOPE in a classic scapegoat move. However, this allows Nascimento to be hired as undersecretary of intelligence a desk gig to oversee wiretapping and surveillance. Nascimento sees this position as a golden opportunity, not only fight the drug cartels, but the corrupt system of cops and legislators that allows them to flourish. He turns BOPE already a considerable police force into a war machine.
Padilhas just getting started. And so are the less-than-honest cops, who are too busy fleecing their public to protecting it. With a story that plays out across a span of several years, Elite Squad: The Elite Within may be marketed to Americans as an offshoot of The Expendables skull logo and all but thats because words like sociopolitical scare away potential renters.
Dont be! While viewers will gain a real feel for how the criminal system works in simpatico with elected officials, theyll also get their moneys worth in stealthily crafted set pieces of stakeouts and bloodshed, and Mouras commanding lead performance amid a supporting cast of dozens of players, each vital to the story no matter how small the role. In both relevance and real-deal suspense, the work belongs up there with the best of Martin Scorseses behind-the-curtain looks at criminal enterprises.
Yes, its that stellar. Its that vital. Rod Lott