Operações Especiais

“Brazilian whacks.”

The Brazilian special police unit, known as BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais) have a ferocious reputation for a hard-edged approach to its work. This is, likely, necessary for surviving the favelas (slums) of Rio in which they operate, going up against heavily-armed drug dealers. But with this also comes a “by any means necessary” approach, which has come in for criticism. They’ve been the topic of films before, most notably the incredible Elite Squad, which is an all-time classic of action cinema (and removed any chance of us attending the 2016 Olympics). It’s into this obviously macho environment, that rookie policewoman Francis (Pires) is dropped, and has to make her way.

Early on, this is a heroine who is seriously out of her depth, being a former hotel administrator, who opted to join the police after a robbery at her place of work. Quite how she ends up on the squad is a bit vague: quotas may have been involved. Anyway, they’ve just succeeded in flushing the bad guys out of Rio, but the perps have taken root in a suburb instead, so for their next mission, BOPE are sent there to supplement/replace the local cops. Initially, both residents and city government are delighted to have someone there, following an incident in which local kids were shot. But after the gang members are defeated, the squad decide to turn their attention to the resident corrupt politicians. All of a sudden, they aren’t quite so welcome any more…

I loved Francis’s character arc: far from initally being any kind of bad-ass, her reactions during the first raid and subsequent gun-battle are much closer to the “cowering in a corner” which would likely be my personal approach to coming under attack. Her courage is latent, and somewhat misdirected – early on, she’s chewed out by her commanding officer, after risking herself to drag a wounded suspect out of the line of fire, something which clearly demonstrates the attitudes of BOPE. But she gets a tip from a prisoner, which pays off, giving her the self-confidence to come out of her shell. She blossoms from there, to the point that, by the end, she has become almost indistinguishable from her colleagues in terms of that attitude.

It does share a certain, alluring crypto-fascist attitude to Elite Squad: it seems to suggest that the cops deserve greater slack, since they never have anything but the best interests of the population at heart. At least Squad was willing to admit the potential for corruption – something this largely skirts, with the main villain carefully portrayed as a former cop. It also ends abruptly, feeling more like a pilot than a fully rounded feature, with too many loose ends. It’s still a sharp piece of social observation, with some good characters; her commanding officer is a particularly delight, someone who clearly gives not a damn for the niceties of convention. However, I’m still not likely to book any holidays to Rio for a while.

Dir: Tomas Portella
Star: Cleo Pires, Fabrício Boliveira, Thiago Martins, Marcos Caruso

Sunland Heat


“Only really one thing badly missing: a logical storyline.”

This Brazillian-shot entry has a lot of good ideas, and some excellent moments, but comes up short with a script that borders on the incomprehensible. For example, in the middle of the film, the hero and heroine are both shot with tranquilizer darts – but no subsequent mention or explanation of this ever appears. This kind of sloppy plotting plagues the movie; it’s almost half-way through before the basic story becomes clear.

To save you the effort, here’s the main thread: Jennifer Howard (Van Hagen) is a top-class martial artist, coaxed into brutal matches by rich husband Daniel (Richardson). After killing an opponent, Jennifer has had enough; but will her ex-spouse, who has his own problems, with someone syphoning money off from his business, let her find sanctuary in Brazil? ‘Course not. Luckily, she meets a friendly photographer (Perry) – who just happens to be a top-notch martial artist too, naturally – and he’s there to assist her, when Daniel kidnaps her daughter.

There’s lots to appreciate, not least the actors. As opposed to many films, Hagen here actually looks like she could kick your ass, and the flashback fight sequence is excellent – I’d like to have seen more of that, and all the battles are well staged and shot. While Perry is somewhat bland, he’s effective in action; Richardson is a B-movie veteran for almost two decades (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Attack of the 60-foot Centrefold, etc.), and has a nice, world-weary air here. But Putney (left) is perhaps the best find as Daniel’s gun-toting sidekick, Jackie; the final scene between her and her boss is fabulously intense. And there are other cool little aspects, in things like Daniel’s henchmen.

However, in an interview, the director says, “I had to cut almost 50 pages of the script.” A suggestion for next time: don’t just yank them out at random – as appears to have been the case here – and you might find the end product is rather more coherent.

Dir: Halder Gomes
Star: Alex Van Hagen, JJ Perry, Jay Richardson, Laura Putney