Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Tropa de Elite: O Inimigo Agora É Outro)

The Enemy Within, it's not just the cops and robbers who are corrupt and greedy and barbarous, but also politicians and media representatives. The "system" is everywhere.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Tropa de Elite: O Inimigo Agora É Outro)

Director: José Padilha
Cast: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, André Ramiro, Milhem Cortaz, Seu Jorge
Rated: NR
Studio: Variance Films
Year: 2010
US date: 2011-11-11 (Limited release)
UK date: 2011-08-12 (General release)

"I kicked a lot of junkies' asses, I killed a lot of scumbags. Nothing personal. Society trained me for that." Lt. Colonel Nascimento (Wagner Moura) is headed into yet another battle at the beginning of Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Tropa de Elite: O Inimigo Agora É Outro). This time, he's trying to subdue a prison riot, which he does brutally and also from a distance. That is, when one of the prisoners who has taken hostages declares, "I don’t negotiate with cops, the hostages are going to die," Nascimento sends in a squad of military police to summarily execute the hostage-takers. Amid the blood and smoke, he's hailed as a national hero.

If you've seen Elite Squad, director José Padilha's 2007 film, you know that Nascimento, then a captain in Rio de Janeiro's Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (the Special Police Operations Battalion, or BOPE), is not only tough, but also thoughtful. He means to fight back against the seeming overwhelming force of the city's criminal network, the drug dealers, the gun-runners, the gangsters, and the neighborhood mini-lords who maintain their grips by killing people, their enemies and also any and all random citizens who resist. And he worries about turning into a mirror image of the villains.

In the second film, Nascimento faces similar questions, only more of them. Again, he's in a position to see more than could have been seen by Sandro do Nascimento, the drug-addled street kid at the center of Bus 174 ( Ônibus 174), Padilha and Felipe Lacerda's brilliant 2002 documentary. When Sandro took a city bus full passengers hostage -- and was killed by police -- the filmmakers used TV and street surveillance footage, in addition to interviews with cops, reporters, social workers, prisoners, and homeless people, in order to interrogate the causal intersections of poverty, violence, and official corruptions, as these affect children like Sandro, abandoned by social and political mechanisms, consigned to be "invisible."

In The Enemy Within, Sandro's namesake faces all of this again, though he comes at it from another perspective, that of the dedicated, moral-minded, and frequently anguished policeman. The film --which has already made more than $63 million in Brazil -- is defter and slicker than Elite Squad. (Even the bloody shootouts are more efficient: you understand the consequences without feeling pounded.) It also expands the focus of its critique: it's not just the cops and robbers who are corrupt and utterly barbarous, but also politicians and media representatives. The "system," Nascimento discovers, is everywhere.

The devastating and apparently intractable extent of this system becomes clear to Nascimento, whose narration here is similar to what it was in Elite Squad, partly looking back and partly holding out, so that you discover details as he does (though you'll likely guess who's involved in what's going wrong before he seems to catch on). His tone is somber and even sad, as his relationship with his son Rafa (Pedro Van-Held) is strained, and his ex-wife Rosane (Maria Ribeiro) finds a new life with Diogo Fraga (Irandhir Santos). It happens that his efforts to negotiate with the prisoners back in the film's first scene were thwarted by the assault Nascimento ordered. Fraga goes on to be elected to the legislature, running against police excesses.

This complex relationship between Nascimento and Fraga represents the many turns taken by their mutual -- and sometimes conflicting -- efforts to fight the "system." Their seeming opposition is staged obviously: one man is prone to violence and visible anger, the other more intellectual, less macho. Each recognizes different instances of abject greed and cruelty and, eventually, each turns to the other for help in sorting out the morass.

Their primary adversaries here are the increasingly powerful paramilitary groups, with one foot in the police force (even inside Nascimento's beloved BOPE) and another in moneymaking street activities… and still another inside government buildings (where they support some elected officials, like Governor Gelino [Julio Adrião], though not others, like Fraga). Incarnated most visibly by the large and scary Major Rocha (Sandro Rocha), these men can't trust each other or anyone else: they run illegal business in the favelas, maintaining their influence by killing anyone who even thinks about resisting or exposing them, including cops and reporters. The film underscores the irony of this system, its structure as an open secret: everyone knows the menace exists and how it works (at least in general terms), and no one has the wherewithal to defy it effectively.

Determined to fight back, Nascimento is at once heroic in conventional senses and profoundly limited in what he can do. The interlocking pieces of the "system" are daunting. It "feeds on politics," Nascimento asserts, "And politicians only care about the media." When the militia (inevitably) oversteps or its plainly criminal associations are exposed, "the system would have to work out a solution." As The Enemy Within insists, that solution can't be good.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

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1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

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