By Sibel Tinar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Following months of teasers and speculation, Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad 2), the sequel to the controversial and wildly popular Tropa de Elite finally opened in Brazil on Friday October 8th, attracting record crowds of 1.25 million to theaters on the first weekend making it the fifth biggest opening in Brazil of all time.
José Padilha, the director of the first film and the provocative documentary Ônibus 174 (Bus 174) is not a filmmaker to shy away from tackling social and political taboos and by adopting a multi-perspective approach it allows a multitude of characters to freely express their opinions, fears, and even hatred, without the director worrying about exerting his own personal views.
Tropa de Elite was a harsh and unforgiving story of loss of innocence that approached the issue of drug trafficking and violence that dominates the favelas of Rio de Janeiro from the perspective of main character Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) of BOPE, the ‘elite squad’ of the city’s police whose logo of a skull penetrated by two guns and a knife speaks volumes.
The biggest challenge of the sequel is the fact that Tropa de Elite was a complete film that wrapped up its story with no loose ends. The film did not obviously call for a sequel, so don’t expect a continuation from where that left off. Indeed, Tropa de Elite 2 has chosen to distance itself as much as possible from the first movie, pushing the storyline thirteen years forward and adopting a different theme, yet keeping its arresting narrative and visual style intact.
Despite bursts of narrative brilliance and unfaltering technical prowess, Tropa 2 takes on too much at once, abandoning the first movie’s personal focus and setting its sights on the elusive ‘system’. A concept as general as the ‘system’, in film making can either materialize as two-dimensional, puppet characters, or as prosaic and expository dialogue. Tropa 2 manages to do both.
The evolution of the subject matter and the characters is natural and realistic, but it inevitably leads to the iron doors of a vaguely defined ‘system’, whose watchdogs are corrupt bureaucrats and politicians. The demonizing and even ridiculing of these key figures lead the otherwise powerful film to fall flat at times; but it is the eventual focus on Nascimento and his disillusionment with everything he used to believe in and fight for, that makes the movie a coherent piece of work with both purpose and heart.
Despite its shortcomings, Tropa de Elite 2 is one more step in Carioca director José Padilha’s career that will establish him as the brave, opinionated, yet open-minded filmmaker, who at his core is still a curious documentary maker, trying to understand and make sense of the atrocities, with a knack for captivating the audience and commercial success.
In the meanwhile, with no word yet on its foreign or DVD release dates, the decision whether or not to see the movie in the theaters will not be an easy one for non-native Portuguese speakers living in Brazil. It is of course a must-see for any cinephile on the pulse of Brazilian cinema, and its visual language is strong enough to allow most to follow the main plot.
However, the strong focus on the evils of the system and its inner workings means many details are dependent on voice-over and dialogue, requiring a fair understanding of Portuguese, and as with its first incarnation, the heavy use of Carioca slang means that, undoubtedly, a lot of context may pass by those less accomplished in the language.