Wednesday, April 12, 2017


The modern standard for Brazilian cop films was set by Jose Padilha's 2007 film Tropa de Elite, known in the Anglophone world as Elite Squad. Tomas Portella's film returns us to that violent milieu from the novel perspective of a female cop. Francis (Cleo Pires) is a bank employee who decides to try out for the police after rescuing a child during a robbery. To her disgust, she finds a bank security guard cowering in the same rest room where she'd taken the child. She proves a solid marksman, but learns quickly that shooting at targets is no substitute for the real thing.

While Francis turns out fairly badass, the film is realistic about her physical limitations. During one raid, she's bowled over effortlessly while guarding a stairwell when a suspect charges her. Portella and his co-writers also show her all too plausible terror during her baptism of fire, a combined car chase and fire fight. It's an impressively staged action scene, as are all the film's set pieces -- and it's made better by the director's emphasis on Francis's fear and discomfort as tight turns slam her from side to side of the car or bounce her off her partners. At one point, having struggled to pick her gun off the floor, she's crouched down in the back seat  after gunfire has blown out the rear window. One of her colleagues blasts away at the gangsters with his automatic next to her, and the empty cartridges rain down on Francis's neck while she frantically brushes them away.

That's Cleo Pires as Francis in the lower right in both shots.
Above, you can see a gangster jumping down from the upper left while another 
(in the little box just right of center) gets ready to open fire.

Francis careens from terror to recklessness in another major urban battle scene. The cops are trading fire with gangsters in a terraced apartment complex across the street, the gangsters hopping like mountain goats from terrace to terrace while gunmen try to cover their getaway. On the cops' side, a man is down and helpless with a leg wound, crying for help as Francis clings to cover. Finally she puts her own life in jeopardy, forcing her buddies to cover for her, as she drags the wounded man to shelter. She gets reprimanded for this, but it marks a turning point for her as she begins to overcome her rookie terror and win acceptance from her macho colleagues.

 The life of a cop is not all glamorous violence, but all over the world, that's what people pay to see.

Our heroes are federal police sent to a crime ridden town where an ex-cop is one of the leading gangsters and organized crime has much of the municipal infrastructure and public opinion on its side. At one point, the cops have to break out the candles and manual typewriters in order to take statements and file reports after their station loses power or, more likely, has it taken from them. I guess it's a good thing that they never throw anything out. The tide seems to turn after Francis loses a partner to a drive-by, but the politicians snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and reassign Francis and her team elsewhere. Despite that nod to the apparent facts of corruption in Brazil, Portella ends his film on an optimistic or at least a defiant note with the team arriving in a new town, ready for a new fight. Whether that means a sequel can be expected remains to be seen, but  Portella's skill as an urban action director and Cleo Pires' empathetic performance as Francis would make a reunion a welcome event.

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