Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Leighton Gage, the author of Blood of the Wicked and Buried Strangers, you can read reviews here and here [with links to my three part interview with him], recommended the film Tropa de Elite [Elite Squad] about Brazil's special anti-drug police and their battle with the drug trafficking militias that control Rio's slums. 
I missed it when it was on locally but watched it last night when it reached my cable operator's film service. It was well worth the wait and the cost at £3.50. 

Last week I watched the first two parts of the Channel 4 series Red Riding based on the quartet of books by David Peace [interviewed here by the FT].  I wondered why the top American crime series such as Law and Order and The Wire discussed important issues while Red Riding was so one dimensional. The Yorkshire police are corrupt, venal, and brutal but it is all so bleak that so far we don't know why or frankly care. 

Tropa de Elite, which won best movie at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008, is the very opposite of Red Riding. Yes it is a brutal violent film but everything is explained with sharp clarity, despite the modern camera work, and we feel for the characters who face difficult decisions and compromises every day of their working lives. 

Andre Matias and Neto are two rookie cops, and childhood friends, in a police force that is totally corrupt, and where bodies are moved from one area to another and back again by the police in order to keep their division's murder rate down. Matias and Neto devise a scheme to use the graft money to repair the police cars in the motor shop which leads to Capitao Fabio being blamed.  All three attempt to join BOPE [Batalhao de Opercacoes Especiais] to avoid retribution or death from their angry superiors.

Capitao Roberto Nascimento, the narrator, is a squad leader in BOPE a paramilitary police force who undertake the toughest missions in the slums of Rio which are controlled by the drug gangs. He is looking for someone who can take over his squad as his wife is expecting a baby and the stress of the high risk missions is getting to him. Neto and Andre Matias are the two possibilities. 

Andre Matias is studying law along with the spoilt rich kids with fine apartments, who despise the police and whose money goes a long way to funding the drug gangs. Andre gets into a relationship with a rich fellow student Maria, but does not tell her he is a cop. 

The film poses many questions:
What do honest men do in a failed justice system?
Are Nascimento's brutal methods justified when dealing with drug dealers and their associates? 
Are BOPE just legalized vigilantes with their shoot to kill tactics?
How do you deal with violent well armed criminals except by using violent well armed police?
When the children of the rich use drugs do they understand, or care, that their money buys more drugs and arms to preserve the power of the drug trafficking militias?

The interrogation methods used by Nascimento make "waterboarding " look like something out of an Enid Blyton children's book, but what do you do in his situation. The unarmed British 'bobby' would last 30 seconds in a Rio favela and as a policeman friend said of questioning in a British police station, "We can't raise our voices we have to bore them into a confession". 

This is a brilliant thoughtful film that I really enjoyed and it made me impatient for Leighton Gage's next Chief Inspector Mario Silva book, Dying Gasp. 


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