There are two important points to this film. The first is more about reality than the film itself. Crime is rampant in Rio de Janeiro. The favelas are ruled by crime bosses and drug dealers. But if recent reviews suggest that a non-violent approach will somehow quell the crimes, then their liberal viewpoints are incredibly naive (I should mention at this stage that I consider myself to be a liberal, but even I can’t deny the problems associated with relaxed laws and punishments). It’s no surprise that the film was so well-received in Brazil, by people who are close to the situation represented in the film. And while I can’t say that machine guns and torture can beat the criminals entirely, there is a certain satisfaction in seeing abusive and downright nasty scum get their comeuppance as the film progresses.
The other point worth noting is that the makers of the film do understand that the situation isn’t exactly black-and-white. Nascimento is no Rambo. There are multiple levels of Nascimento’s gradual break-down and desperation to leave. He quaffs pills to calm himself, despite persisting nightmares. In one scene, Nascimento is genuinely shaken by the emotional collapse the mother of one of his victims (a lookout for a drug-dealer). Despite Nascimento’s hard-man facade, he’s actually a mess. One could argue that this only attempt to solidify the film’s right-wing morals by making its “hero” more sympathetic, but it mostly indicates that there’s no easy solution. We also see the consequences of BOPE’s action, which lead to further violence, and potentially add to a perfectly vicious circle. However, it would have helped if the film didn’t culminate in the “exciting” chase of the criminal who kills one of the lead characters, pushing any moral ambivalence into the background.
Rather than glorify its militant actions, Elite Squad is more in the center than liberal journalists would like to admit. Their disgust is not with the film, but with the savage scenario that the film faces. But what makes this film so exciting is not its right-wing ethos (although you could argue that the film does tease out the right in its audience), but in its ability to provoke, while just about maintaining a neutral viewpoint on a difficult and complex situation.
3 ½ / 5 stars
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