Elite Squad: The Enemy Within José Padilha
Published Nov 24, 2011Despite dabbling with both socialism and fascism, noting democracy as a commodity and weaponry as phalluses for the socially castrated, José Padilha's follow-up to the uber-violent and polemical Elite Squad is as much an intricate response to assertions that the original was propaganda as it is a matured ideological exploration of challenged morality (or his Godfather II, if you will).
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within positions itself within the hierarchy of government and social corruption, with protagonist Nascimento (Wagner Moura) working as a behind-the-scenes strategist 13 years after the events of part one, where he was trying his damnedest to escape BOPE (Rio de Janeiro's Special Police Operations Battalion). Of course, now the wife he was trying to respect and protect is living with lefty activist Fraga (Irandhir Santos) and his newborn is a teenager rebelling against his father's demands of masculine performance, getting into trouble with low-level narcotics.
While the first film examined the training techniques and violent actions of police battalions against drug-addled, crime-ridden favelas, The Enemy Within tackles what happens when these low-income locales are exploited for big business corruption once the drug traffickers are ousted.
Nascimento winds up in the middle of this ouroboros puzzle after BOPE mucks up a prison raid, leaving him an ersatz figurehead hero, which, incidentally, Fraga exploits to get elected to congress. Coping with their roles as mere cogs in a deplorable self-serving system, these seeming opposites reluctantly collaborate to resolve the aforementioned narrative pedagogical strategy.
Padilha again manages to generate a harsh and unrelenting vision of Brazil, with his pseudo-realist aesthetic and gritty violence (he's the man behind documentaries like Bus 174 and Secrets of the Tribe, after all). If anything, his direction is tighter and his plotting more complex. But for all of the clever systemic analysis and political self-consciousness, there's a heavy-handed feeling of guiding, manipulative ethos permeating, regardless of partial ideological vagaries.
Quite simply, the constant narration from the gruff and contradictory Nascimento is far too on the nose and guiding to allow the viewer to draw their conclusions through active, or emotional, engagement. We're told rather than shown, much like an academic thesis, which doesn't necessarily make for compelling, or lasting, cinema. (VVS)