Bus 174

"Essential"

Bus 174 Review


In the movies, hostage situations are a surefire way to guarantee suspense and drama. And while there are always moments of tension (usually of the "will he/won't he kill them?" variety), the vast majority of the time the situation is resolved neatly, the hostage-taker down with a bullet between the eyes (or just led away in handcuffs if he's a criminal with a good heart). But, as the real-life hostage-taker in the absolutely riveting documentary, Bus 174, keeps shouting to police, "This ain't no action movie!"

In the summer of 2000, Sandro de Nascimento, a 22 year-old street kid living in Rio de Janeiro, boarded a bus waving a gun and demanding everyone's money. What should have been a fast grab-and-run to fuel Sandro's prodigious cocaine habit quickly deteriorated into a hostage situation that started out badly and kept getting worse.

The cameras were there almost before the cops, allowing the entire event to unfold live on Brazilian TV. The cops that show up at the scene are useless. They stand around like spectators, allowing journalists and gawkers to wander practically right up to the parked bus. At one point, viewers even see a man blithely bicycle past no more than a few dozen feet from the scene. This brazen incompetence continues throughout the day, lessening only somewhat after the slightly more professional Rio SWAT team arrive. The whole situation brings to mind the hapless blunders of the Munich Olympics hostage situation captured in One Day in September. The police are so ill-equipped they don't even have radios.

Directors Felipe Lacerda and José Padilha use generous amounts of the live TV footage to tell their tale, interspersing it - more so in the beginning, less so later on when things begin to build to a climax - with talking-head interviews with cops who were involved, Sandro's family members and friends, and others. At first, not much of the actual crime is shown, though we see Sandro stalking back and forth inside the bus, wrapping a towel around his head, putting sunglasses on and trying to get one of the hostages to drive the bus. Bus 174 builds Sandro's past with exacting care, contrasting his horrible life with hauntingly gorgeous aerial shots over Rio.

Sandro was raised in a Rio slum where, at the age of 10, he watched as three knife-wielding men butchered his mother. Although his aunt (who was interviewed for the film) took him in, Sandro soon ran away and became one of the thousands of street kids thronging Rio. He was one of the kids who survived the infamous Candelária massacre in 1992 - eight of Sandro's friends were gunned down in cold blood by the police - a fact that Sandro cannot stop repeating to the cops surrounding the bus. Stints in juvenile detention and prison, mixed with petty crime and the brain-addling glue sniffing that's de rigeur for Rio street kids, constitute the rest of Sandro's life, up to the bus incident.

While the film is effortlessly dramatic, Lacerda and Padilha also managed to create a work of spectacularly insightful social reportage. Just as Sandro's life and environment are dissected, so are all other aspects of the event, from the hostages, to police tactics and mistakes (told by a cop hooded for protection), and the life of street kids (related by a kid who talks blithely of slashing cop's throats and setting robbery victims on fire). Commentary by a rather windy sociologist is less effective. Although he speaks eloquently of the fatal invisibility of those like Sandro, his remarks are rather obvious in light of more direct testimony captured elsewhere in the film.

When Bus 174 builds to its conclusion, it's like a runaway train, something unstoppable and terrifying. Although Lacerda and Padilha have by that point given every reason for viewers to understand Sandro's predicament, they never stoop to taking sides, managing somehow to point the finger at all the right people - the police, the media, a city that would rather see these children dead than help them - without negating Sandro's culpability. The final scenes, as police snipers miss every opportunity to take Sandro down, as the media creeps closer, and the hostages play out fake dramas for the cameras under Sandro's orders, constitute some of the most powerful images ever filmed.

In the end, it isn't an action movie, and it isn't just another true-crime documentary; Bus 174 stands alone as a cold, sad requiem for a generation of the lost.

The DVD includes a few deleted interviews and a making-of short.

Aka Ônibus 174.

Ain't no trip to Cleveland.



Bus 174

Facts and Figures

Run time: 122 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 30th August 2003

Box Office USA: $0.1M

Box Office Worldwide: $217.2 thousand

Distributed by: ThinkFilm Inc

Production compaines: Zazen Produções

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Fresh: 75 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Felipe Lacerda, José Padilha

Producer: José Padilha, Rodrigo Pimentel, Marcos Prado

Starring: Yvonne Bezerra de Mello as Herself, Sandro do Nascimento as Himself, Rodrigo Pimentel as Himself, Luiz Eduardo Soares as Himself

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