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Review: Elite Squad 2 – The Enemy Is Now Another (2010)

Director: José Padilha | 116 minutes | action, drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, André Ramiro, Milhem Cortaz, Maria Ribeiro, Seu Jorge, Sandro Rocha, Tainá Müller, André Mattos, Pedro Van-Held, Adriano Garib, Julio Adrião, Emílio Orciollo Neto, Rodrigo Candelot, Charles Fricks, Fabrício Boliveira, Marcello Gonçalves, Pierre Santos, William Vita, André Santinho, Guilherme Belém

Rio de Janeiro, city of beaches and war in the slums. After a stroboscopic title sequence that almost blows the light out of your eyes, ‘Tropa de Elite 2′ ends up in the metropolis’ most infamous prison. A murderous uprising breaks out. The first push is given by a corrupt member of BOPE, a paramilitary Brazilian police unit. The emblem of BOPE: a skull through which a blood-trenched knife has been coaxed. BOPE itself puts down the uprising, led by the complacent authoritarian Colonel Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura). What follows is an aggressively styled film in which executions and blackened skulls go together with a strong structure and a balanced story. That combination is striking, in this genre, but not entirely surprising. Controversial predecessor ‘Tropa de Elite’, also by director José Padilha, in 2008 even won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Steven Seagal, the action hero who likes to give ‘depth’ to his battle, would draw blindly for it. But he was not invited to this party.

Colonel Nascimento is promoted after the uprising. His cynical vision of the internal war between BOPE and the gangs shows his character: for him the endless fight is “a therapy to de-stress”. He de-stresses in his new position by restoring the decayed BOPE unit to its former glory. His belief in ‘an eye for an eye’ was still rock solid at that time, he makes clear via the voice-over. As a narrator, Nascimento is emphatically present throughout the film. And although his transformation carries the film, the real protagonist here is ‘the System’: an invisible, untouchable social fabric of which politicians, agents, judges, media figures, citizens, farmers, outdoor people and gangsters form the fibers. In ‘Tropa de Elite 2’ each of them gets his (replaceable) role. In fact, the System rules. It deals in everything that brings in money and power, from drugs to cable television. And Nascimento may think he can clean up Rio with BOPE, but even tackling is in the hands of the System no more than electoral rhetoric. In a sense, Nascimento says, every resident of Rio is part of it. You are being used by it, or you are using it, there is no escape from it anyway.

‘Trope de Elite 2’ is a film of extremes, about a world of extremes. The story shoots at lightning speed from dark corridors in the favelas to the back rooms of politicians, and from a packed lecture hall to the motor yacht of a bastard of a law officer. Despite this, the film manages to give the characters on display an aura of flesh and blood. In some striking scenes, for example, the dilemma of Nacimento’s son Rafa (Pedro Van-Held) is elaborated. Rafa lives with his mother Rosane (Maria Ribeiro) with her new boyfriend Fraga (Irandhir Santos). As a left-wing academic and human rights activist, Fraga is the complete opposite of Nascimento’s tough hand – and Rafa sits in between. You can’t bring a conflict to grease and yet it works.

Just as the System, in Nascimento’s conviction, is more than the people who shape it, this film is more than the sum of events. Form here reflects content. Flashy cuts, blazing guitars, ice-cold sunglasses: Padilha pulls out all the stops to tempt you to adore what ‘Tropa de Elite 2’ serves you. Including the violence. But ‘Tropa de Elite 2’ distinguishes itself from other films, by showing that sometimes you cannot solve a complicated problem in a simple way (read: with a few punches). And that simple solutions can actually make the problem worse. In other words, the day-to-day reality presented by this film would drive Steven Seagal’s characters to despair. Fortunately, that Roberto Nascimento is still there.

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