An action-packed thriller that follows an elite police battalion (BOPE) tasked with cleaning up a drug-ridden Rio de Janeiro slum in advance of the pope's 1997 visit. A team of trained killers, they struggle to do what's right in a corrupt system and dangerous neighborhood.
Though José Padilha's action-packed crime drama won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, a steady stream of controversy and acclaim has followed in its wake. Some critics have even accused the director of promoting fascism, while Padilha (Bus 174
) contends that Elite Squad
police brutality. Like Vic Mackey, who heads up The Shield
's LA strike force, narrator Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) heads up Rio de Janeiro's Police Special Operations Battalion (BOPE). Its 1997, the Pope arrives for a visit in six months, and BOPE will stop at nothing to reduce crime in the favelas. The way they see it, drug traffickers have them outmanned and outgunned, so there's no point in playing by the rules. With their black uniforms and berets, the Skulls certainly cut an imposing figure. New police recruits Neto (Caio Junqueira) and aspiring lawyer Matias (André Ramiro) turn to Nascimento when their efforts to operate by the book only lead to frustration (Matias was inspired by author/law student/BOPE member André Batista). The burned-out captain sees his salvation in the two childhood friends; as soon as he selects a replacement, he plans to leave the force and spend time with his pregnant wife. Nascimento may find his man, but the ending is far from happy. Brutal and bleakly funny, Elite Squad
depicts 1990s Rio as Danté's Ninth Circle of Hell. Nonetheless, Brazilians made the film an even bigger sensation than City of God
, to which it serves as an essential companion piece. --Kathleen C. Fennessy