Like its 2007 predecessor, Elite Squad, one of the most popular Brazilian films of all time, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within bemusingly appears to be all for fascism as enforced by the special military-police union of its title, better known by the acronym BOPE. Targeting the drug cartels in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, BOPE (whose adorable logo is a skull impaled on a sword backed by crossed pistols) is shown using urban-warfare tactics to get the job done via brutal efficiency and a what-can-you-do disregard for human rights. José Padilha’s follow-up to his first film is only getting a small release in the U.S., in spite of its success abroad—it’s already cracked the IMDB’s top 250. That’s unfortunate, because this sequel expands the scope of the first film and muddies its questionable morality, portraying a system that’s inherently flawed, in which BOPE, though one of the few uncompromised aspects, is still vulnerable to being used to others’ corrupt ends.
The film, set 13 years after the first Elite Squad, follows Wagner Moura as a lieutenant colonel whose dour demeanor is balanced by a wry, hard-ass voiceover. Though he spent the first film searching for and finding a successor to head up BOPE, The Enemy Within finds Moura back on the squad. His marriage is over, and his adolescent son is learning to dislike his father’s violent ways, thanks to his new step-dad, left-leaning civil-rights advocate Irandhir Santos. Moura and Santos are placed at odds when a prison riot goes bloodily wrong, but the people are so supportive of the former’s slaughter of a rampaging drug gang that he’s promoted up and out of his depth to Sub-Secretary Of Intelligence, overseeing wiretaps as well as his beloved BOPE, and discovering that politicians may be worse than cartel heads.
Padilha’s film has a witheringly low opinion of most people—the gangs are no better than animals, the regular police are gleefully corrupt, the liberal intellectuals are sanctimonious fools, and the politicians are only interested in protecting themselves. Moving to its own throbbing beat, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within offers an exhilaratingly bleak vision of what it describes as “an articulation of loathsome interests,” in which the well-meaning suffer, while Moura—who’s almost as frightening as the forces he’s up against—learns that some things can’t be fixed with a rain of bullets.