José Padilha’s Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) explores the deep-seated corruption riddling Rio de Janeiro through a powerful Brazilian action drama. Building on the success of 2007’s Elite Squad, Padilha’s sequel offers another deeply compelling insight into the state of Rio’s law enforcement and political system, showing the true depths of the city’s social problems as an institutionalised pandemic.
After eradicating the drug cartels, Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) is faced with a new enemy in the form of a politically-backed paramilitary mob. Following a PR disaster (in which prison in-mates are executed in front of a human rights activist), Nascimento loses his position at B.O.P.E (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais), the Special Police Operations Battalion of the Military Police and is transferred to a desk job at the Secretary of Security’s intelligence unit.
Immersing himself in his work after the deterioration of his marriage, Nascimento sets about plotting to finally purge the streets of the cartels. Realising that his past crackdown has created a power vacuum on the streets, a group of corrupt police officers move in and take control with the support of politicians seeking re-election. Whilst dealing with the problems of the city streets, Nascimento is also struggling to connect with his increasingly distant son who is taking on the politics of his mother’s new husband – the same human rights activist involved in the prison riot scandal.
Casting its net further than Elite Squad, The Enemy Within moves away from the war with the drug cartels and focuses on the roles that the city’s police force and political system plays in keeping Rio’s streets in violent and dangerous disarray. Although in isolation both Elite Squad films offer convincing portrayals of Brazil’s shocking reality, they are best viewed in order to fully appreciate the background to B.O.P.E and its characters.
Whilst The Enemy Within is not as punchy as its trigger-happy predecessor, the film remains an intriguing slice of drama with the advantage of a much more balanced standpoint. This may be in part to the reception that Padilha received for his first film – in which he was criticised for his enthusiastic portrayal of B.O.P.E as an unrelenting executor of law and order with no appreciation for the complex social and economic causes of the city’s problems.
Past crime dramas such as City of God (2002), Carandiru (2003) and Padhila’s own 2002 debut Bus 174 have helped make Brazilian cinema an important tool for spreading awareness as well as an internationally critically acclaimed medium – thankfully, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within successfully continues with this trajectory.