Elite Squad 2 – The Enemy Within (Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora é Outro)
Brazil (2010) Dir. José Padilha
Having broken box office records in its native Brazil and upset the establishment in the process, the success of Elite Squad beget the obvious sequel, which, as many sequels do, has a lot to live up to. Can José Padilha catch lightning in a bottle twice and is there any mileage left in exposing the corrupt side of the Brazilian police force?
The answer to the second question is “of course” since it is rife in the modern world, but this time, while the focus remains with the eponymous elite squad the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE), Padilha looks at the murky relationship between the law and politicians.
Set 13 years after the first film Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) again serves as narrator, now a Lt. Colonel having returned to BOPE after his marriage to Rosane (Maria Ribeiro) ended. Following the botched handling of a prison siege, Nascimento is removed from BOPE and made State Subsecretary of Intelligence, as human rights activist Diogo Fraga (Irandhir Santos) publicly embarrassed BOPE since he was a hostage.
Meanwhile it is election year in Rio and since BOPE has driven out the drug lords and criminals, the corrupt police now run the cities and slums backed by the local politicians. This militia, fronted by Major Rocha (Sandro Rocha), ensures they can get away with continuing to rule their territories and secure votes, until one little slip up catches the eye of Nascimento.
Returning to the earlier question as to whether this sequel could measure up to its superb predecessor, the answer is another resounding yes. In many ways, this is more mature and focused film in terms of exploring its themes and continuing to deliver its incisive critique on corruption. In terms of box office, it is currently the top grossing film of all time in Brazil.
With the plot centring on political machinations, it is easy to forget that questioning the excessive use of violent force to solve an issue remains a pertinent theme of this project. The first film essentially propagated the “fight fire with fire” doctrine by way of dealing with low life drug dealers; the higher class of enemy this time around, one would assume that a more cerebral approach would the key to exposing their actions.
Indeed, for Nascimento it plays out that way for the most part, relying on the strategic element of his BOPE training to outwit his opponents, but with his superiors able to block his every move, the avenues of justice are becoming slimmer by the moment. This time around, it is the militia who solve their issues with firepower, but unlike BOPE who has the authority to kill, Rocha can manipulate any situation to make it look like something entirely different.
Complicating things further for Nascimento is Fraga, who not only has been elected to the position of State Representative but is also now married to Rosane, with whom her and Nascimento’s son Rafael lives. Giving the story its humanist anchor, Fraga has essentially convinced Rafael that Nascimento is no better than the scum he kills, making the lad scared of and disappointed in his father.
In trying to rebuild this relationship, Nascimento is stumped by the simple question of why he has to kill so much in his job, although since his promotion, Nascimento hasn’t been near a gun for a long while. But with Rocha running wild under his nose and government officials using their position of power to cover it up, something has to give and Nascimento’s is forced to resort back to his old ways to survive.
Another familiar face from before is André Matias (André Ramiro) now a captain in BOPE, until his trigger happy actions messed up the prison siege and is demoted to regular cop. An angry Matias tells all to journalist Clara Vidal (Tainá Müller) straining the relationship with Nascimento. He is later brought back into BOPE via Rocha’s influence but Matias proves to be too good at his job for Rocha’s tastes.
Padilha and co-writer Bráulio Mantovani have once again crammed an awful lot of material into this densely plotted script and still keep things to under two hours, yet nothing is wasted. The voice over narration allows for exposition and info dumps to be condensed into functional transitions between scenes, keeping the story moving while updating us on the vital developments.
The increased budget means a stylish production values making this a slickly shot film, full of dizzying aerial shots and snappy editing, but the content is no less confrontational and remains brutally raw in depicting of the near ubiquitous violence. Like the first film, it opens mid-story with a shoot out in the nighttime street before turning back the clock to reveal how we got to this point.
Before, Nascimento was a hard character to relate to due to his indoctrinated single mindedness as a BOPE captain but now, having a son who can’t relate to him presents a challenge for Nascimento to evaluate his job and his feelings for the first time. Wagner Moura steps up admirably to explore this character development, the added complexities of this storyline requiring more than just being intense.
Even with the loftier production values, the film retains it gritty edge and the whole cast quite often don’t appear to be acting, in keeping with the pseudo-documentary feel perpetuated by the hand held camerawork. Most importantly, Padilha’s social commentary loses none of its bite, if anything covering political corruption makes this more vital and universal in its appeal.
With a third film hinted at the end, it might be bold to suggest that Elite Squad could join the likes of The Godfather, Infernal, Affairs, Lord Of The Rings, The Human Condition and the original Star Wars saga as one of the classic film trilogies, but The Enemy Within is a rare case of a sequel being on a par with or better than its predecessor.