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TROPA DE ELITE – (ELITE SQUAD) – FILM REVIEW
By Paul Cunniffe
In 2007 the film “Tropa de Elite” (Elite Squad) was released in Brazil under a shroud of great controversy, the film depicted the “Policia Militar” (Military Police) as being unscrupulous, corrupt, lacking in motivation and spending much of the time hanging around shops, bars and clubs collecting “protection money” as opposed to carrying out “preventative police duties” which is their remit.
The Military Police were incensed that a film, showing them as many already perceived them, tried to get its release halted. However, with pirate copies hitting the streets it was all in vain and on 5th October 2007 José Padilha`s film opened and on its first weekend with only billboard advertising over 180,000 people saw it in Rio and Sao Paolo alone. On its nationwide release a week later that figure rose to 2.5 million.
The film itself, based on a book “Elite da Tropa” by two BOPE officers and a sociologist is set in 1997 and centres around Pope John Paul II`s visit to Rio de Janeiro and The BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais,) or Special Police Operations Battalion, having to guard him.
The main story is that the BOPE commander Captain Nascimento needs out, his wife is pregnant and he has had enough, the only problem is he needs a replacement before he can go. The BOPE recruit from the ranks of the Military Police but only the toughest and honest ones can join; here lies Nascimento`s problem.
At times depicted as a psychotic character Nascimento despises the corruption in the Military Police, he is also a family man and believes strongly that he cannot leave without finding the right man to replace him.
He comes across Matias and Neto two childhood friends who are in the Military Police who want to join the BOPE so his problem is solved, well not quite. Matias is an intelligent man with scruples studying for a law degree whilst Neto is the kind of man you want with you on that short journey from London Bridge to South Bermondsey for an away game. To say too much more would spoil a great movie.
The film is shown with the narrator being Nascimento himself and as a foreign film this is useful. My only criticism is that I watched it twice before I fully understood it, as it is action packed and you are trying to piece the characters together as well as read the subtitles. The beginning of the film, the opening five or ten minutes is in fact an hour into the film and the film comes back to this, which is useful to know before watching it.
There are scenes of extreme violence and I don’t think Shami Chakrabarti or any of her colleagues advised Padilha on the movie. If a few punches to the face don’t make you talk there is always the plastic bag over the head and if you still don’t talk the threat of a rusty garden implement inserted into the rectum normally works.
The film was winner of the 2008 Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, but Jay Weissberg in “Variety” subsequently branded the film “a one-note celebration of violence-for-good that plays like a recruitment film for fascist thugs".
If he thought that was Padilha`s intention then maybe he should have looked at his CV first. He was writer of the documentary “Bus 174” which hardly depicts the Rio police in a good light and producer of “Estamira” a documentary about a 63-year-old Schizophrenic woman who's the leader of a community of old people living off garbage on a Rio de Janeiro landfill site; hardly the work of a right – wing activist.
“Tropa de Elite” started as a documentary but José Padilha decided to turn it into a motion picture and I hope he continues, although no doubt he is making enemies with certain people in authority in his homeland which is no doubt dangerous.
The film is due for its nationwide UK release on 8th August 2008. If you liked “Bus 174”, “City of God” or are fond of foreign films then if you don’t see another film all year, don’t miss this.
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