Elite Squad

Elite Squad

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Amber Wilkinson's film review of Elite Squad

OK, so there are no audio commentaries, no featurettes, no Berlin Film Festival red carpet footage or making-of documentaries. Just get over it. The one extra featured on Optimum's DVD release of Elite Squad is of such high quality that it more than compensates for the absence of all these others.

In an economic 30 minutes, director/co-writer José Padilha discusses (in English) the genesis, politics and reception of his film, in a manner that is as engaging as it is incisive. Previously known for his documentary debut Bus 174 (2002), which treated urban violence from the eyes of a violent criminal, Padilha had originally intended Elite Squad to be a documentary on the same themes, only this time from the perspective of a violent cop. He soon realised, however, that Rio de Janeiro's police were unwilling to be filmed in action, or even to give interviews in front of a camera, and so he developed a script for a fictive feature film instead - although it was still drawn from conversations with over 20 policemen, several police psychiatrists and drug dealers, and was co-written with former military police officer and BOPE captain Rodrigo Pimental (as well as Bráulio Mantovani, of City Of God fame). "Everything", as Padilho says, "you see in the movie is a reflection of reality in Brazil" – and that includes the 1997 papal visit ("BOPE killed 32, 33 drug dealers so the Pope could sleep one night.")

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Those who suppose (and some critics, perversely, have supposed this) that Padilha somehow shares, or indeed glorifies, the reactionary views of his narrator/protagonist Captain Nascimento, may be surprised to hear the filmmaker's open critiques both of police corruption and violence, and of the sort of society that needs a death squad like BOPE in the first place – although of course such critiques are also encoded within the film itself. Certainly BOPE did not imagine that the film was an open endorsement of their practices, given that their officials tried to sue Padilha and to have sequences of torture and murder cut from the film. Padilha, however, reserves equal venom for the middle-classes who, through their recreational use of illegal drugs, help to support an industry that has proved so ruinous for the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Elite Squad may be known outside Brazil chiefly because it won the Golden Bear at Berlin, but Padilha reminds us of the film's immense popularity domestically. Indeed, thanks to a pirate copy of the film that somehow found its way out of the editing suite, Elite Squad had already been seen by 11-15 million Brazilians before it opened in cinemas. See it, see why.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2009
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Elite Squad packshot
A special squad officer in the violent Brazilian slums tries to find a replacement. Read our with José Padilha.
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Product Code: OPTD1451

Region: 2

Ratio: 16:9

Sound: 2.0 Stereo/5.1 Surround

Extras: Optimum trailer reel, original theatrical trailer, director's interview

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