“Elite Squad” (Tropa de Elite), a Brazilian film that journeys deep inside the corrupt heart of the country’s police force, offers an unblinking depiction of violence, fear and the victims of a broken political system. At times this journey is painful, but the film’s commitment to telling the stories of its very arresting characters keeps the violence from becoming impersonal.
The film’s protagonist, Capt. Nascimento, is the leader of a squadron of BOPE police, the SWAT of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro.
The BOPE’s symbol is a skull and knives, and its mantra is death. They are the only police who enter the self-contained slums or favelas that surround Rio de Janeiro, and are trained to shoot before asking questions.
Nascimento begins suffering from crippling panic attacks after long nights waging bloody war on drug traffickers in the favelas, and wants to find his replacement so that he can prepare for the birth of his son.
He has two options: Andre, an idealistic poor black law student, and Neto, Andre’s childhood friend who has a maniacal zeal for police work. In Nascimento’s words, one had the brain and the other the heart to be a member of BOPE.
The film contrasts both potential replacements’ experiences in the regular police force, which is mired in complicated systems of graft and inefficiency, to the brutal special operations unit in which Nascimento works. They are the two poles of an ineffective system of oppression, not protection.
The film, in Portuguese with Spanish subtitles, is suspenseful and fast-paced, as well as thought-provoking and somewhat disturbing. It will stay with you.