Thursday, 27 January 2011
SUNDANCE 2011: Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within
Starring: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, Andre Ramiro, Pedro Van Held, Maria Ribeiro, Seu Jorge
By Alan Bacchus
What happened to Elite Squad 1? I guess I’m not keeping up with my international genre cinema, but ES1 was one of Brazil’s most successful domestic films, a crackerjack cop thriller with comparisons to The Wire, or Heat. Along comes Elite Squad 2, a film already released in Brazil, which has become the highest grossing domestic Brazilian film of all time.
The title refers to the special task force police militia established in the first film (which I haven't seen), and now run by the tough as nails Nascimento (Wagner Moura). The film opens four years in the past in the city’s most notorious prison where Nascimento commands the squad assigned to subdue a violent riot. Tasked as the negotiator is Fraga, Nascimento’s nemesis, whose desire to peacefully resolve the conflict runs counter to Nascimento’s corrupt bosses. The standoff goes horribly wrong, the fall out being the loss of Nascimento’s job on the squad.
Most importantly with many of the key gang members dead, a corrupt and clandestine movement within the police force itself takes over the reigns of organized crime in the slums of Rio. Now more of bureaucrat than an officer Nascimento has to navigate a world even more treacherous than the street level policing, the office and board rooms of the new polical corruption which has gripped the city.
Mondo muscular action is the attraction here. And Jose Padilha who previous work includes the acclaimed Bus 174 documentary, has all the panache of a seasoned action director. Guns are shot and framed like glorified phallic symbols, aggressive rock music scoring sounds just like something produced for a Jerry Bruckheimer or Tony Scott film, and the men who hold these guns are as badass as you’ll find in any crime film.
Elite Squad 2 should not be characterized simply as a disposable action film. Comparisons to The Wire are more accurate than Heat. Missing from ES2 is the elegant sense of grandeur present in Michael Mann’s work, instead Padilha substitutes style for a strong sense of realism, which legitimizes the film.
An interesting adjunct to this film is the manner in which it was produced and distributed. After the first film suffered from a leak prior to its release the film was primarily seen by illegal downloaders. For this film the producers 'four-walled' it, which means they controlled the distribution and exhibition of the film. Instead of hiring a third aprty company to distribute they booked the theatres themselves to ensure no one other than the filmmakers had copies of the film. The result was a $65million (US) domestic take for the film.
It's one example of new financing and distribution scenarios coming out of Brazil at this time. Look for for high profile Brazilian films to come out in the near future on par with this immensely entertaining and robust action flick.