Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite)
The film portrayed the police as thoroughly corrupt and the Elite Squad as a group of highly indoctrinated soldiers who routinely used torture and carried out a shoot first policy.
What is perhaps most surprising is the way that I accepted the violence and torture that the Elite Squad practised on screen. It seemed that for the most part it was justifiable and almost necessary. Its not until later on in the film when we witness the new recruits beginning active service that you find yourself questioning how far they are going.
Even then, there's still a feeling that they are justified and that the tactics are necessary in such a society, just carried out with perhaps a little too much venom.
Tropa De Elite tells the story of one of the team leaders of the two teams within the feared Elite Squad. They are the best of the Police, more highly trained than the Israeli army, or so they claim, and totally against police corruption as well as all those who deal in drugs.
Their job is to bring down corrupt police and go into the slums to arrest or kill drug dealers and their gangs, something the normal police won't do unless collecting their payouts.
However this team leader has had enough. With a child on the way and a guilty connection made between his wife and child and the mother of a lookout that they fated to execution, he realises the time to give up and find a replacement is here.
Finding a group of new recruits wanting to join the squad, they whittle them down and find two possible replacements.
The story begins telling us who his two final recruits are that he must choose from to take over from him, showing us their predicament before they decide to volunteer. From here we leap back to when they first joined the police force.
We listen to the voice over of the team leader as he talks us through the beginnings of the two recruits in the police, their mistakes in life and the force, and their unwavering belief in doing the right thing. He introduces us to his life in the squad, a glimpse of it outside, and the pressures he faces, as well as showing us the squad in action.
These all follow a storyline which is predominantly one of the recruits. He is torn between a woman from the slums who is connected with the drug dealers, his desire to enter law, and his desire to be in the police and do the right thing.
I do think that there was perhaps a bit too much to try and get through in the story, a bit too much material. Some things were left to the voice over and perhaps weren't fully explored or even missed by the audience.
It does feel as though the story keeps the pace going pretty fast and this sometimes skips quickly over a few areas that maybe the story could have dwelled a little longer upon, just to fully explore the scene or storyline.
However I don't think that they could have done much more without losing plot threads and extending the film far too much. As it was it stuck a great level between length, content and entertainment.
The film does look like it carries high production values, the style is slick and it does look like a Hollywood film. During the chase sequences in the slums the camera work becomes quite frantic and does make you think of the Bourne films, however here it is much more effective at demonstrating panic and the fast action of the Elite Squad. It's a very natural and realistic filming style, not too over stylised such as Bourne and other fast shaken hand held point of view films.
This is one of the aspects of the film that really does succeed in making it feel tense and exciting.
Something else that the film succeeds in is making the audience connect with and believe in the characters. Although you aren't emotionally invested in them, you do understand them and empathise with them.
That leads me onto the characters and the acting performances themselves, and like the rest of the film they portray a strong feeling of reality and believability and a palatable sense of danger.
Some performances are better than others, for instance the team leader and the woman working in the slums both give strong performances, while the main recruit seems a little stilted and flat. Even so the story and the action carry you through the lesser performances.
Finally it has to be said that the music is really good and some of the beats contribute to the mood of the film, particularly during a fast paced sequence.
The film isn't quite as strong and impactful as I had expected. Watching the trailers and reading about the film I would have expected to have been more shocked, but I think that's because this story plays out more as a Hollywood film, more as entertainment than a reflection on real life in Rio de Janeiro. Of course I do believe that if I was closer to the city and day to day life that I would think very differently.
The film itself is very strong carrying good actors, performances, great pacing and excitement, and it manages to give a strong feeling of reality.
Elite Squad aka Tropa De Elite paints a bleak picture of the police in Rio de Janeiro, but it does seem firmly rooted on the side of the elite police.
Overall it's a powerful film that does come across more as entertainment than serious world commentary, but it does make you wonder how real this is, and if it is, what it must be like living on either side of the story.
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2008 Release Dates: Portugal 10th July, Spain, Venezuela 11th July, UK 8th August, France 3rd September, USA 19th September (limited)
UK IMDB Film Details
Filmstalker's Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008 page