Thunderous gun battles and powerhouse performances anchor the ground breaking story of the BOPE, a SWAT-like team at war with the drug lords of Rio de Janeiro. Racing against time, its hard-driving captain puts a pair of rookies through hell in an effort to shape a worthy successor and clear out a drug-infested slum before his imminent retirement. Based on a book by two former BOPE captains, Elite Squad's brutal honesty and raw action rocked Brazil to its foundation and gripped viewers worldwide.
Jose Padilha’s violent and vulgar, but also very riveting, film chronicles a deadly series of confrontations between the BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, or Special Police Operations Battalion) and the local drug-lords in charge of Rio de Janeiro’s sprawling slums, or favelas as they are called. The year was 1997, and the late Pope John Paul II about to pay a visit, so the BOPE was sent in to clean up the neighbouring slum of Turano next to where the Pope was supposed to stay.
“Tropa De Elite” is told from the point-of-view of Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura), an expectant father looking for his replacement among a batch of new recruits, the most promising of which are two childhood friends turned cops, the impulsive Neto (Caio Junqueira) and the intellectual Matias (Andre Ramiro). Their recruitment actually only begins in the second half of the movie, the first instead spent on delineating their impetus to join the BOPE.
It is in this first hour that director and co-writer Padilha keenly lays out the vicious reality behind the crime problem. To stay in power, the drug lords pay off the regular poorly paid policemen who patrol the streets, and the policemen turn a blind eye to what goes on in their precinct. As Nascimento says: “Either a cop stays dirty or he chooses war”, and those who choose war often end up dead or demoted.
Against this backdrop, the BOPE are presented as the solution to the problem. Highly trained and incorruptible, they accomplish what the police force cannot through swift, brutal and bloody means. Their training is just as intense, the aim as Nascimento narrates “to punish the weak and the corrupt”, depicted through the instruction of both Neto and Matias. Certainly, you cannot question the BOPE’s efficiency and results, but you can’t help but doubt their highly questionable means.
Is violence the only recourse to violence? Is triumphing the thugs at what they do, however unwarranted, the way to fight them? Apparently so- if you believe Padilha’s film which teeters on the brink of glorifying their vigilantism. Indeed, Padilha seems to champion the BOPE as heroes, their brutish methods as necessary. But what about the ramifications on a population disgruntled with their techniques? Aren’t such actions simply perpetuating, rather than breaking, the cycle of crime and violence?
These are tough questions that Padilha’s film glosses over, important questions that need to be answered in order for “Tropa de Elite” to be taken more seriously than a biased portrayal for the BOPE. Admittedly, it’s hard to understand the complexities that confront the BOPE in real life, the realities that prompt the use of such aggressive measures in real life, but it is Padilha’s fault that the audience isn’t presented a more balanced perspective.
Despite its flaws, it isn’t hard to see why this movie became Brazil’s top grosser of 2007. It is gripping and captivating and a top-notch action thriller. But as social commentary, it works well at trying to dissect the socio-political causes behind a crime-ridden Rio reality, but less effective in convincing that the BOPE is its best solution.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
This Code 3 DVD contains no extra features.
The English-dubbed audio on this DVD just doesn’t do the film justice, especially when the voice actors come off laughable when they are trying to talk tough. Similarly, the Dolby 2.0 audio lacks some ‘oomph’ for the film’s numerous shootouts. Picture is nice and clear, without any visible grains even during the scenes at night.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 12 June 2009