YOU WOULDN'T KNOW IT from most American action movies, but adrenalin and intellect aren't always mutually exclusive. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within—a sequel to 2007's well-regarded Brazilian crime thriller Elite Squad—is a hell of a reminder, though: It's smart, it's intense, and it deftly balances both hard-edged crime drama and all-too-relevant political maneuvering.
Unless I've totally blacked it out, the first Elite Squad never played in Portland, but don't let that put you off from diving into its sequel—this thing largely stands on its own as a sort of examination of/tribute to badassery. After wrangling his way through a brutal prison uprising, the tough, jaded, and super right-wing cop Nascimento (Wagner Moura) finds himself a hero to Rio de Janeiro's crime-weary populace—and, now in the good graces of the local politicians, awarded a high-profile desk jockey job overseeing the city's surveillance. Putting his handgun in a drawer, Nascimento seizes the opportunity to expand Rio de Janeiro's military police division and start using the tools at his disposal to tear down the systemic corruption that soaks the city.
Only two problems: (A) The idealistic, passionate, and super left-wing Diogo Fraga (Irandhir Santos) isn't too pleased with Nascimento's tactics. And it doesn't help that Fraga's not only ambitious, but also happens to be married to Nascimento's ex-wife, and step-father to Nascimento's young son. Also, (B) It takes Nascimento about two minutes before he comes to the devastating realization that the corruption he seeks to destroy runs far, far deeper than he thought.
All of which leads to (C) Bullets and threats flying in equal measure, while a city threatens to burn.
There's a lot going on here, and it's to the credit of director and cowriter José Padiha—who also helmed the first Elite Squad, and is currently on deck to reboot RoboCop—that the film clips along at a brisk, forceful pace, whether it's during a jarring shoot-out in a Rio slum or focusing on Nascimento's increasingly frayed day-to-day life. "To people like me, war is medicine," Nascimento says at one point. "War keeps the mind busy." And sometimes, it seems, gives it exactly the sort of fuel it needs to run.