Elite Squad


As ambiguous in its accused fascist leanings as the original Dirty Harry—and yet as reflective of its homeland’s domestic turmoil as America’s cop dramas and Italy’s poliziotteschi were in the 1970s—this latest pounding slice-of-thug-life thriller from Brazil packs the same cinematic firepower as City of God, only on the other side of the law. This time, it’s the cops who are trailed with grainy urgency by anxious hand-held cameras: They’re members of the BOPE, a killer-elite strike team that wages war on the drug lords who rule the favelas while Rio’s corrupt cops look the other way. On one side is Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura), a burned-out hardliner in desperate need of retirement, whose cold-blooded narration frames the action; on the other are gun-crazy hard-knock psychos and dilettante rich-kid pot dealers—with the middle class lost somewhere in between. The jabbing tone, point-blank violence, and jittery visual syntax will be familiar to any fan of The Shield, as will the simultaneous attraction/repulsion to locked-and-loaded fuck-Miranda homeland security. But Bus 174 director José Padilha, working from a script co-written by former BOPE officer Rodrigo Pimentel, precariously pitches the squad’s brute force as less a necessary evil than the outgrowth of an existing evil—a no-win situation that mocks liberal ideals and warps conservative pragmatism into domestic terrorism. The setting may be pre-9/11—1997, to be precise—but the movie’s bleak choices are definitely post-Gitmo.