The best police drama in years just happens to be Brazil's highest grossing film ever and the sequel to the 2007 film about the Special Police Operations Battalion of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is crackling entertainment that explores the complex network of police officers, politicians and citizens who live and work in and around Rio's favelas. There is corruption and graft, but the relationships and motivations are complex. Fans of The Wire will appreciate the film's inside look at Rio's biggest players, and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within presents evidence of deep-rooted societal strife without forcing viewers to choose a side.
Lt. Col. Robert Nascimento (Wagner Moura), whose story began in Elite Squad, loses his current post after the military police (shortened to BOPE in Portuguese) brutally guns down prisoners during a jail riot. Instead of being demoted, Nascimento is tasked with running BOPE's surveillance operations, and quickly butts heads with state representative and civil rights activist Diogo Fraga (Irandhir Santos), who is married to Nascimento's ex-wife. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within jumps inside the governor's office, where the politician conspires with corrupt cops, and to the television studio where a local news personality spray paints an image of Rio red to symbolize the blood shed because of the all backroom dealing. Nascimento anchors the story, and is concerned when a former subordinate, Capt. André Matias (André Ramiro), starts working with brutal BOPE leader Major Rocha (Sandro Rocha). The corrupt are omnipresent, and they quickly begin working to take down Nascimento.
The film's director, José Padilha, gained notoriety with his 2002 documentary Bus 174, about a man who took a group of passengers hostage and the surrounding media frenzy. The documentary touched on Brazil's military police and life inside the favelas, and likely inspired Padilha to direct Elite Squad. In this sequel, Padilha steps back from BOPE's daily operations to focus on the unit's place within Rio's government, and in doing so creates a compelling piece of fiction ripped straight from the headlines. The favelas, Rio's hillside shantytowns, house over 11 million people, and have entered popular culture via videogame Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and films like City of God and Fast Five. Nascimento explains that the residents are poor, but the favelas are where the money flows.
Nascimento and Fraga sit on opposite sides of the aisle, but seem to be the only honest players in the game. Their professional relationship bleeds into after hours, as Nascimento's son, who lives with his ex-wife and Fraga, begins to see his dad as Fraga does, hot-tempered and violent. Fraga earns his seat at the state house, where sessions frequently turn contentious, and Nascimento struggles to pin the kidnapping of a journalist on the guilty parties. The struggle is all-consuming for Nascimento and Fraga; it eats at the souls and makes everything else seem trivial.
Nothing in Elite Squad: The Enemy Within rings false thanks to the filmmakers' meticulous research, and the acting is superb across the board. The film deserved an Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film, if not a win. What a man does when no one is watching is the true test of his character, and the men in Elite Squad: The Enemy Within struggle to uphold this maxim without betraying their posts and the people who count of them.
New Video Group brings Elite Squad: The Enemy Within to Blu-ray with an impressive 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. Although confined to a single-layer disc, the transfer is spectacularly detailed and film-like. Director Padilha gives the film a stark, realistic appearance, complete with far-reaching depth of field and abundant texture. Colors alternate between the hot reds and oranges of the favelas and the grays and browns of BOPE headquarters, and saturation is spot-on. Many scenes are cloaked in shadow but remain detailed, and blacks are crisp and rarely crush. Contrast is boosted at times but never blown out, and skin tones are accurate. The trees and buildings of the favela give banding every opportunity to make an appearance, but it never does.
Although the packaging seems to indicate the presence of only a standard Dolby Digital track, the film receives an explosive Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track on Blu-ray. This is an incredibly immersive mix that exhibits impressive range and plenty of surround panning and effects action. Dialogue is perfectly rendered amid the ample action effects, including gunfire and explosions, which exit the speakers with a ferocity befitting this exciting film. The LFE response is never timid, and the score is impressively deep. A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix is also included, though the English subtitles are not removable.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within comes in a standard Blu-ray case. New Video Group throws in a DVD copy of the film alongside the Blu-ray. The only extra is a Making-Of Featurette (56:56/HD) that is actually more of a documentary about the police, neighborhoods and politicians described in the film. The piece features cast and crew interviews that touch on the movie, as well as Brazil's social and political challenges. The comments are interesting, as is the behind-the-scenes footage, and the content nicely complements the film.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within takes viewers deep inside the ranks of the Brazilian military police as it goes to war with the politicians and drug kingpins that operate within the densely packed shantytowns of Rio. The line between noble and corrupt is thin, and the film moves effortlessly between all the players to present an intricate, exciting portrait of the corruption in Brazil's political arena. New Video Group's Blu-ray features excellent picture and sound and a nice companion piece to the film. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.