This visceral sequel seamlessly combines political outrage and action.
Jose Padilha’s Elite Squad was a conventional action movie about the training, private lives and ultra-violent favela raids of Rio’s black-shirted super-cops, BOPE. But its popular impact in Brazil has encouraged this Godfather: Part II of action sequels, or maybe more accurately Casino to the original’s Goodfellas.
Where the first film noted Rio rich kids’ complicity in the drugs trade and cops’ corruption almost in passing, The Enemy Within extends its cinematic and social reach. In this heavily researched and viscerally effective epic, the enemy are no longer uzi-toting drug lords, but Brazil’s stinking civic society.
BOPE commander Nascimento (Wagner Moura) had panic attacks in Elite Squad, and that nervous energy pervades every character and scene this time. The botched aftermath of a prison riot sees him bumped upstairs from frontline duty to a bureaucratic post. Using this position to crush the favelas’ drug cartels, he hopes he’ll deprive cops’ of their pay-offs and so break what he sneeringly terms 'the System'.
Instead, the police find they can now cut out the gangster middle-man between them and the ghetto, which becomes a police militia-run fiefdom, selling everything from cable TV to votes. Nascimento is meanwhile also at war with Fraga (Irandhir Santos), the civil rights firebrand now married to his wife. Telenovela melodrama is interwoven with socio-political expose, giving redoubled, awful consequences to both men’s acts.
The universe they inhabit is so violent and depraved that Nascimento’s protégé Mathias (Andre Ramiro) acts as a guided missile of incorruptible police righteousness while suffocating informants in plastic bags. The Judge Dredd-style neo-fascist BOPE becomes the only functional resistance to the militias, because of their cult-like loyalty to Nascimento, not money.
And when an attack on his son makes the System a still more intimate affront, Nascimento gives a politician a beating even Dredd or Dirty Harry would baulk at. Typical of Padilha’s subverting of action movie attitudes, catharsis comes watching the hero brutalise a boss who thought he was untouchable, not a snivelling ghetto perp.
Lula Carvahlo’s hand-held camerawork and Daniel Rezende’s urgent yet unrushed editing give the film fateful momentum, while a top US special effects team shows Padilha’s successful ambition to match action movies anywhere in the world.
But it’s his relentless pursuit through his anti-hero Nascimento of the rottenness pervading his country, ending on the spotless steps of its rulers’ palaces, which makes The Enemy Within such a thrilling achievement.
The first film wasn’t all that elite, who asked for a sequel?
Seamlessly combines political outrage and action.
Its characters and conclusions both haunt.