After a string of highly dissimilar dramas and docus, helmer/co-writer Jose Padilha (“Bus 174,” “Garapa”) revisits the material of Brazilian B.O. smash “Elite Squad” and gives it a new spin in “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within.” Pic tries to inoculate itself against charges of championing right-wing, law-and-order sympathies (levied against first pic) by having hero Nascimento go after dirty cops and government officials rather than drug dealers. Calculated, cynical and the biggest Brazilian hit ever with 11 million admissions, “Enemy” will struggle to find overseas auds after Sundance and Berlin fests.
The script by Padilha, Braulio Mantovani and Rodrigo Pimentel once more employs a massive wall of voiceover narration by Rio-based “Elite Squad” Capt. Nascimento (Wagner Moura, again dripping cynicism), explaining not only his internal thought process but also the baroque structures of Rio’s criminal and law-enforcement organizations. Though such narration lends the pic a novelistic quality, it can be a turnoff to auds (especially non-Portuguese speakers) unwilling to wade through huge slabs of subtitled text. Indeed, while the v.o. is key to the franchise’s local popularity — as is its ripped-from-the-headlines sensibility — it could be the very element that keeps the film from translating well internationally.
A tragically botched standoff between rioting prisoners and Nascimento’s BOPA squad (a SWAT team on shoot-first-ask-questions-later steroids) brings things to a head between the captain and leftist intellectual Fraga (Irandhir Santos), who happens to be married to Nascimento’s former wife, Rosane (Maria Ribeiro). The resulting fiasco, rather than forcing Nascimento’s resignation, prompts his promotion to undersecretary of intelligence, which places him in charge of all wiretapping in the Rio area, at the heart of the city’s filthy politics.
The ironic, unintended effect of the success of Nascimento’s BOPA forces, unleashed with unprecedented furor to shut down local drug operations, is that it creates an opening for evil Col. Fabio (Milhem Cortaz, chewing the scenery) to form his own criminal organization.
Thus, in contrast with the unnervingly pro-military sentiments detectable in the first film, the sequel shifts into Sidney Lumet territory, as Nascimento becomes a kind of high-end Serpico facing off against Fabio’s paramilitary death squad and a government happy to support it. Whether this can be read as Padilha’s attempt to assuage left-wing critics in Brazil (even though the first pic was intensely defended by Brazilians of all political stripes) is open for interpretation.
It certainly makes for a better movie than the original, even though Padilha — a filmmaker who remains hard to get a grip on in terms of ideas, content or style — goes in for sensationalism, hyperactivity and obvious dramatics. However, when this “Enemy Within” settles into key action sequences, such as a stunning nighttime ambush or a daytime battle against Fabio, it becomes wildly entertaining.
Padilha’s breathless pace, aided by key collaborator and editor Daniel Rezende, doesn’t allow much time for his actors to sink their teeth into their scenes or characters. Moura just keeps going and going — full-bore, driven, often expressionless and not one to take lightly. Santos, as his counterpart, brings a bit more juice and needed wit.
Coverage of Rio is a location manager’s dream (or nightmare), and busy d.p. Lula Carvalho’s surpasses the original’s grungy urban look with greater visual variety.