SFF 2011: Tabloid & Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Most modern documentary filmmakers working today could learn a lot from Errol Morris. The way he embraces subjective truth is infinitely fascinating and TABLOID, while a minor entry overall in his canon, is possibly his most concerted examination of this idea. I saw a documentary a few days ago entitled COOL IT that so enraged me through its willful one-sided slant despite giving off the aura of objectivity. In terms of presentation COOL IT looks like the work of a pre-schooler while TABLOID is most definitely that of a university student.
Former beauty queen Joyce Mckinney became infamous in the late 70s for allegedly kidnapping her Mormon ex-boyfriend, keeping him 'chained' up in a cottage for 3 days and forcing him to have sex with her. Mckinney claims he went with her to the cottage consensually and the weekend was merely '3 days of food, fun and sex'. She also accuses the Mormons or brainwashing her boyfriend resulting in him accusing her of these crimes. This is barely the tip of the story that Morris chronicles in TABLOID, his most sheerly entertaining film in years.
While ultimately the film may seem inconsequential to those schooled in the recent Standard Operating Procedure & Fog Of War mode of Morris filmmaking, TABLOID actually is a classic Morris story (Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control or the First Person TV series are the best grounding points for what he is doing here). It is the type of eccentric character study the only Morris – still using his wonderful invention, the Interrortron – does this well. Turning a simple recalling of past events into an enlightening deconstruction of subjective truth, TABLOID slowly piles story upon story and before you know it the viewer has no idea who to believe. There was one point late in the film where Morris cut between three separate versions of the same event and I didn't have faith that any of those accounts were 100% true. This idea that there is a disconnect between subjective and objective reality is not new but it rarely has been examined through such an entertaining lens.
Whose story is true? Maybe all versions are true? Does it even matter? Morris doesn't load judgement on any one point of view in the film but he does cleverly manipulate the viewers allegiances over the duration of the entire piece. It really is a huge amount of fun.
ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN has just become the highest grossing Brazilian film in history back in its home country and it isn't hard to see why. This is a sequel to the original 2007 film which I shamefully admit I have never seen. It became one of those films that just slipped by me and was never caught up with. I'm told this sequel is relatively self-contained and actually moves from more street level issues to wider governmental corruption.
The story, while convoluted, is told with great clarity and essentially uncovers the ways that some police and government officials conspire to become the biggest crime syndicate in Rio. One of the most satisfying sequences in the film shows us the classic crime family afternoon BBQ. They are all sitting around with dozens of their cronies, flashing guns, dancing with women and generally celebrating their total control of the city. We could just as well be watching a scene from a South American version of Goodfellas except these guys are not gangsters per se but actually the heads of police, intelligence and government.
Writer/Director Jose Padilha obviously has some strong things to say about the state of things in Brazil and to his credit, he doesn't hold back. He even slips a sly title card in at the beginning of the film stating that while his story contains similarities to real events it is still a work of fiction. It's akin to saying, this is basically what's going on but I changed the names and the situations so you can't sue me.
ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN has been billed as an action film and while it does have several acceptably kinetic sequences (including one rather amazing one involving guns, rooftops, a favela and a helicopter), it actually slows down quite a bit in the middle and becomes a regular conspiracy thriller. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but just something one should be aware of if they are expecting a fast paced actioner. Ultimately this is an entertaining, crowd-pleasing if unexceptional film with a rather clever little denouement that makes a fascinating point about the inherent rot within the system itself.