Sunday, October 21, 2012

The repercussions of (in)action


                From October 2nd to October 6th 1997, Pope John Paul II visited Brazil for the fourth time. Since his first visit in 1980 the social inequality has grown exponentially and the safety conditions deteriorated. But as we all do, Rio de Janeiro tried to show itself in better light. Homeless families and children have been temporarily cleared off the streets and Pope's safety was entrusted to more than 20,000 detectives, military police officers and soldiers, amongst whom were the members of Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (Special Policial Operations Battalion) better known as BOPE. BOPE is a special unit of military police concerned mainly with battle against organized crime and famous for its incorruptibility unlike the rest of the police.

                Nine years later, and just a few months before the new Pope's first visit to Brazil, sociologist Luiz Eduardo Soares and two BOPE officers, Major André Batista and Captain Rodrigo Pimentel, have written a semi-fictional book talking about preparations for Pope's 1997 visit and called "Elite da Tropa".  In 2007 director José Padilha, with the help of screenwriter Bráulio Mantovani, adapted the book into a movie called "Tropa de Elite" ("Elite Squad"). It draw controversy for its portrayal of BOPE as a brutal and uncompromising force and police as being corrupted on every level.

                Movie is narrated by Captain Roberto Nascimento, a member of BOPE who must lead his men to clean the favelas (slums) before the arrival of the Pope. It's his last assignment before retiring so he must also find someone to replace him. Along Nascimento, we follow two candidates for his position, young police recruits André Matias and Neto Gouveia. While André is studying law, and believes in peaceful solutions and good police work, Neto is honest but short-tempered and rash. Discovering how corrupt the police force is, they decide to register for BOPE.

                Although the movie is narrated by a member of BOPE, it takes a fairly distant approach. It is so because Nascimento himself tries to quit BOPE. His wife is pregnant and he got sick of his work which is why he's looking for his replacement. The methods his team uses are troubling at least. They are ready to torture and kill anyone they assume might be connected with the criminals and show almost no compassion. The methods they use are problematic and discarded as savage and immoral by Matias's colleagues at the law school, whom Matias then accuses of being ignorant to true problems and theorizing and criticizing from their privileged positions without true knowledge of the situation. It is interesting because it gets you thinking. All of us criticize something from time to time without knowing a lot about the subject. We criticize politicians for how they run a country, football players for how they play, heck, I criticize movies although I've never learned how to direct or act, and don't really know how the whole movie-making process feels and works. Knowing theory is good, but it isn't enough. Sure BOPE's methods are morally wrong, but the situation isn't black and white. It never is.

                The way those problems and dilemmas are shown is great. Mantovani did a fantastic job with the screenplay, probably helped by the great source material. The story is simple yet effective. It makes us think and also gets us emotionally involved. The camera-work is superb. Scenes showing the moving of Nascimento's squad through favelas are exciting and suspenseful and the movie for most of the time makes you feel like you're watching a documentary. Padilha did a great work. The actors are also fantastic. Wagner Moura as Nascimento and André Ramiro as Matias did a great job showing us troubled characters, as did Caio Junqueira as resolute Neto and Fábio Lago as cruel leader of the gang, Baiano, to point out just a few.

                Rarely a movie functions on so many levels as is the case with "Tropa de Elite". It's a personal story, a great action movie, a display of the problems that social inequality creates, an introduction to a debate about moral issues and limits of law enforcement, and much more. I've watched it for four times now, and I can't wait to watch it again. You should do the same.



    1. Great song and it makes a great comment! Even more suitable for the sequel, which I'll soon write about.

      Thanks for the comment!