by Jim Ridley
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Where: The Belcourt
When: Through Jan. 4
In Brazil, this crackling action thriller trampled Avatar to become the country's highest-grossing film ever — but citizens must have found it the complete opposite of escapism. A thinly veiled account of the police corruption that has thoroughly permeated the country's cities and slums, it's an epic of scalding ironies: the story of how a well-intentioned tactical-squad commander (Wagner Moura) leads a quasi-fascist crackdown on bloodthirsty druglords — only to deliver their former victims into the ruthless and far more efficient hands of shakedown militias made up of dirty cops.
As in his 2007 hit Elite Squad, director Jose Padilha (who also made the gripping documentary Bus 174) sees folly in both right-wing thuggery and left-wing hand-wringing: the former makes the innocent side with the outlaws, while the latter does nothing to stop the genuine criminal threat. But the pervasive cynicism gives the movie an engine of cold fury. Padilha's film rivals the Godfather saga as a portrait of top-to-bottom societal rot — even as its large-scale, high-stakes shootouts and battles make it the year's most exciting crime drama.