Hawking a simplified view of cause and effect, José Padilha’s Elite Squad would make a fitting double bill with Nick Broomfield’s Battle for Haditha. Broomfield’s narrative fiction, a dubious recreation of the November 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by a group of Marines, “humanizes” the Muslim woman by having her take her clothes off, while the American soldier is reduced to a Cro Magnon type: Social despair is described aloud but hardly ever seen (“We’ve got no water, no electricity. Our kids can’t even go to school. This is Haditha!” says the terrorist who triggers the film’s violent whirligig), while the mentality of the Marine is assessed through shrill bullet-points (Broomfield naïvely implies that the tragedy at Haditha might have been avoided had doctors been made available to troops prior to the end of their tour of duties). Like Broomfield, Padilha similarly shuns nuance, but his one-note Elite Squad is more pitiful—an instruction manual of sorts that doesn’t illuminate police corruption and violence so much as it revels in it. Incessantly narrated by Nascimento (Wagner Moura), a BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais) captain who is looking for a worthy successor, the film maintains a clinical remove from its material, beginning as a dull buildup to a violent skirmish between thugs and police outside a favela rave before settling into a Full Metal Jacket-style examination of police troops being sculpted into killing machines, prior to the Pope’s 1997 visit to Rio de Janeiro. Nascimento is essentially a fly on the wall, and as the story cuts between the violent hubbub in the favelas to police rookie Matias (Andre Ramiro) making his way through school, where he rubs shoulders with lighter-skinned intellectuals, the reality of how people are divided along racial and economic lines is condescendingly laid out to audiences. “I wonder how many kids we have to lose for a playboy to roll a joint,” Nascimento coldly remarks after some brutal depiction of police brutality, while that violence is both uninterestingly assailed and rationalized in Matias’s classroom. By the time Foucault is alluded to for the umpteenth time, audiences may resent the film for doing all the thinking for them—maybe even long for the flashes of human interest that the similarly flamboyant City of God and its kissing cousin City of Men provided.
Elite Squad @ the Tribeca Film Festival
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.