I haven't seen the first ELITE SQUAD, but this sequel works magnificently as a stand-alone film, so don't be deterred. Brazil's Official Entry for the 2011 Academy Awards and the highest grossing film in Latin American history is a blazing genre film with a strong political statement.
Clearly inspired by GOODFELLAS, this intense story shows the many levels of corruption within Rio's government and police force, who conspire to take over the drug trade in the favelas (aka slums) and subsequently rule every aspect of its businesses. The police become a mafia-style militia, and it's easy to see this playing out in cities all over the world. All you have to do is look at the crackdowns on protesters in Egypt, Iran, Syria, Lybia, or the victims of pepper-spraying and worse in our own backyards, and you can relate to what's on display here.
This is a highly complex story, but I had no trouble following it because the characters are so richly drawn and the direction is so immediate and engrossing. Jose Padilha impressed me with his documentary, BUS 174, and his experience making it pay off tremendously with great handheld cinematography and a clear sense of what story he's telling. Many have complained about the wall-to-wall voiceover, but it's very similar to GOODFELLAS and truly helped me keep track of the story. Sure, it overstates the obvious at times, and the film would most likely have played just fine without it, but it helped me sort everything out.
What really keeps you grounded are the wonderful performances. Wagner Moura, a dead ringer for Mark Ruffalo, plays Captain Nascimento, who attempts to rid Rio of its corruption, particularly that of the most disarmingly frightening bad guy I've seen in a long time, played by Sandro Rocha as the most corrupt cop you're likely to see on screen. His intensity, even at a backyard barbeque, is the stuff of nightmares. Also contributing great work is Maria Ribeiro as Nascimento's ex-wife, Irandhir Santos as her current husband and voice of uber-liberalism, Andre Ramiro as Nascimento's right-hand man and potential loose cannon, and Andre Mattos as a blustering, over-the-top tv host who makes Peter Finch in NETWORK look like Mr. Rogers.
The opening sequence alone, detailing a prison riot and how it's handled, was enough to make me sit up and take notice throughout the entire 116 minutes. A sequence in the favelas as Rocha takes over and an amazingly intense scene in which a reporter stumbles upon key evidence are master classes in movie suspense. Ultimately, this is a highly depressing treatise on the never-ending cycles of corruption presented as a ferociously-paced cop thriller. Jose Padilha is pegged to direct the reboot of ROBOCOP next, which seems like a perfect fit, as he's pretty good at turning a genre film into something deeper.