Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rio Serpico

Tropa de Elite 2-O Inimigo Ahora É Outro (Elite Squad 2-The Enemy Within) 2010 Brazil (115 minutes) directed by José ‘Zé’ Padilha; written by Padilha and Bráulio Mantovani; editing and second-unit direction by Daniel Rezende; cinematography by Lula Carvalho.
Enormously popular in Brazil, this police action thriller sequel unfolds with dynamic camera work, editing and sound into an entertaining and incisive commentary on public safety and political corruption in Rio de Janiero.
The film’s dénouement is along the lines of New York Police Detective Frank Serpico’s appearance in 1971 before the Knapp Commission which exposed systemic departmental corruption.
Director and cowriter Jose ‘Zé’ Padilha based the first film, Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad, 2007), on a controversial nonfiction book of the same title and actual events related to how BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais), a semi-autonomous Police Special Operations Battalion, eradicated chronically dangerous, armed drug gangs from Rio de Janiero’s shantytown slums, known as favelas.
Decried by human rights groups, BOPE gained a reputation for being a clean, committed and effective unit of the Rio state police, PMERJ (Polícia Militar do Estado de Rio de Janiero), also known as the ‘militia’.
BOPE’s members, in the unit’s distinctive black fatigues, are known as ‘caveirãos’, or ‘skulls’, because of its ‘Faca na Caveira’ (‘Knife in the Skull’) motto and logo. The unit’s heavy-handed tactics generally were welcomed by law-and-order politicians and citizens in a city long plagued by street crime, violent drug dealing and PMERJ beat cops on the take.
This film, the sequel, Tropa de Elite 2—O Inimigo Ahora É Outro (Elite Squad 2—The Enemy Within) considers the outcome of BOPE’s achievement.
It stars the fictional Lieutenant Colonel Roberto ‘Beto’ Nascimento (Wagner Moura) as BOPE’s commander. Nascimento is a squeaky clean, committed, well respected career policeman who loves his work and is good at what he does: in his words, ‘a mission given is a mission accomplished.’ [missão dada é missão cumprida]
However, Nascimento, whose broken marriage is a casualty of his career, lives with a rock in his shoe. His ex-wife Rosane (Maria Ribéiro) remarried Diogo Fraga (Irandhir Santos), a left-wing professor and president of a nongovernmental organization for human rights. Fraga despises BOPE, and he and Rosane are raising Nascimento’s son, Rafael.
A prison melee which sets this story in motion shows that these diametrically-opposed adversaries respect each other for what each of them does because he lives his belief through his work and actions. Each also is convinced that the other is utterly misled.
The short and bloody work BOPE makes of the prison uprising gets international media attention and inspires Fraga to run for political office. Scared politicians immediately relieve Nascimento of command of BOPE, but his huge local popularity obliges them instead to ‘promote’ him to a desk job as a state undersecretary of public security.
Ironically, the politicians’ idea of getting Nascimento out of the way is putting him in charge of Rio de Janeiro’s police wiretaps.
From these vantages, Fraga and Nascimento each begin to piece together a much clearer picture of how ‘the system’ really works. The heart of the story is that each develops as a character and in his own way becomes an ‘enemy within’ this system.
The story is exciting, but also complex. It involves the governor’s office, the state and national legislature, the public safety bureaucracy and its operations, the news media, and a complicated family dynamic. Padilha shuffles all these moving parts on the board that is Rio.
BOPE’s mission arose in part from the belief that aggressively containing the drug trade would dry up dirty militia cops’ illicit cash flow, and thus clean up the Rio state police force.
Cameras in two helicopters and shots from cranes and handheld cameras closely following the action on the ground show BOPE move against gun-toting ‘vagabondos’ (an all-purpose term translated as ‘scumbags’ used for people associated with the drug trade) in a densely populated urban area.     
However, according to the movie, four years of this energetic, high-morale assault force’s hard-hitting ‘war on drugs’ served mainly to make Rio’s formerly ungovernable poor neighborhoods safe for dirty militia cops and their political sponsors to take over and exploit.
When the drug dealers’ cash flow from drugs began to dry up, they found other ways to extort money from people in the favelas. This made dirty cops realize that the slums are huge marketplaces. So, rather than simply shake down vagabondos, they made it look like they were protecting residents from them, when all they really did was cut out the ‘middle man’.
The dirty cops, in effect, ‘reorganized’ crime. They made a lot more money much more safely by loan-sharking and collecting ‘fees’ every time money changed hands for basic goods and services like cable television, Internet access, and bottled gas and water, for example.
The militia then was able in turn to ‘deliver’ these pacified areas electorally to local politicians, who could pull strings to use the willing—and unwitting—BOPE to do the dirty work of eliminating any armed and dangerous residual opposition.
Among the movie’s deft touches is its cast of politicians, public officials and policemen, none of whom would be out of place in a major American city.
Of these, Governor Gelino (Julio Adrião), the governor of the state of Rio de Janiero, is a classic bandwagon jumper more interested in how things look in the news media than how they are on the street. Fortunato (André Mattos) is a trilling latin edition of a plus-sized right-wing television bloviator in love with the sound of his own booming voice who, along with Fraga, subsequently becomes a state legislator.
Fortunato guffaws at his legislative colleague Fraga’s assertion that the formerly gang-infested favelas are run by a ‘policemen’s mafia’, saying that ‘the mafia’ is a bunch of Italians, ‘like macaroni, rondelli and gnocchi.’ Yet for all his joshing, people—and cops—in Fortunato’s legislative district call him ‘padrinho’—‘godfather.’
And indeed, the dirty militia officers—overbearing, middle-aged, bronzed latins with gold chains, accessorized with bimbos and a luxury powerboat and led by Major Mário Rocha (Sandro Rocha), a mid-level officer with ties to the governor—differ little in their behavior and appearance from HBO’s notorious Sopranos.
When investigative newspaper reporter Clara Vidal (Tainá Müller) gets a hot lead on their activities, it does not take long for this motley crew to overstep its ambit. There is a reckoning, because there are rules.
As in life, though, the worst people more often than not land on their feet. This will allow Padilha another opportunity to revisit an older and wiser Nascimento and Fraga in the next chapter of their story.

No comments:

Post a Comment