I am always skeptical of sequels so when I sat down to watch Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) the follow up to the 2007 hit Elite Squad I was a little skeptical. I thought that Elite Squad would be a really tough act to follow. It takes a big man to admit he is wrong and I am not a big man; I was, however, wrong Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is just as good, if not better, than its predecessor.
The film has the look of a documentary including narration by now ranking officer of BOPE Colonel Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) 13 years after the events of the first movie. Nascimento is shown leaving a hospital and is being followed by a man reporting his moves into a Nextel radio. Nascimento is telling the viewer that he was visiting his son who was seriously wounded in a drive by shooting probably targeted at the Colonel. The Colonel knows something is not right and as he drives away from the hospital, a car corners him and several gunmen begin to shoot at him. Meanwhile the Colonel is still narrating the scene as cool as a cucumber. There is something important about the scene that we are not privy to until the end of the film.
Nascimento takes us back 4 years to describe the chain of events leading to his attempted assassination. Now a Lieutenant Colonel in BOPE, he arrives at the Bangu Penitentiary Complex to put down a prison riot. Bangu is apparently run like the Rio slums, with the same drug cartels simply segregated in different wings of the maximum security prison. One of the corrupt guards is bribed into bringing weapons and ammunition to a faction and is turned into a hostage. BOPE is called in to suppress the riot. Nascimento calls the governor’s office and wants to use to this opportunity to let the drug dealers kill each other, but the governor waivers. After taking out one of their rivals the prisoners know that BOPE has been called in and they are cornered. Against Nascimento’s advice the prisoners say they will only negotiate with a human rights activist and history professor named Fraga (who also happened to marry his ex-wife). Fraga goes in and exchanges himself for the prisoners. Mattias (the on the ground Colonel’s replacement), against Colonel Nascimento’s direct orders, moves into the room where the standoff is taking place. Fraga convinces his captor to lower his weapon but the second he does, Mattias shoots him in the head, as the Colonel tells the audience he trained him too do.
Problem comes with a blood stained T-shirt worn by Fraga. As he is grandstanding before the press, he holds the Governor and the Colonel responsible for the bloodbath at the prison. The Colonel reminds us that in less than one minute BOPE had the riot under control. Given all of the controversial press the governor is inclined to remove the Colonel and Mattias from the BOPE squad.
Furious that he cannot get in contact with the governor or his direct superiors he barges in on their lunch meeting. While Nascimento is walking through the aisle all of the citizens stand up to applaud and shake his hand. Seeing that they may have made a poor political decision, the governor warmly embrace him and instead of discharging him, Nascimento is actually promoted to the under Sec. of Defense something no other BOPE commander has ever achieved.
In his quest to clean up the system, Nascimento turns BOPE into a war machine getting his squad armored cars and even a helicopter. His plan works, all of the dealers are run out of the slums. What Nascimento didn’t count on is that when the drug money dried up, that meant the corrupt cops would also be cut off from their sources of income. One corrupt official in particular realized that there is much more money in taxing the slums as a whole rather than pestering dealers alone. So these police militias were formed to “protect” the slums when in reality they were violent tax collectors. So the corruption fees went from $30,000 per month to $300,000 per month organized similar to the lines of the traditional Mafia.
Ironically Fraga (who thinks the Colonel is a fascist and tries to keep his own son away from his father) and Nascimento (who thinks that Fraga is a left wing politician capitalizing on human death and misery) both are right to a certain extent however, but they are also the only two who really understand what has happened; that is, the police have become far worse that the dealers because they are abusing their power under the color of state law against everyone not just users and other criminals. Fraga, now a state legislator, wants to hold hearings but is rebuffed because it is an election year. Nascimento has built the perfect war machine which has does its job, but can’t be turned on the police.
So what are they to do? We will discuss that in Part II.