Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
It’s not always easy to believe filmmakers who claim to represent violence in order to critique it. With the recent City of God, for example, Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles erred on the ebullient side, depicting Rio de Janeiro favela life with arty abandon. Although his protagonist comes from the same milieu, documentarian José Padilha is more reserved with Bus 174. On June 12, 2000, a street kid named Sandro Rosa do Nascimento hijacked Rio Bus 174, beginning a near-five-hour standoff with police. When law enforcement failed to secure the area properly, the stalled vehicle was besieged by both onlookers and television crews, which broadcast the drama live to record ratings. As might be expected, Padilha interweaves harrowing original footage of the hijacking with recollections from hostages, police officers, and journalists. But he also tracked down various family members and street acquaintances of do Nascimento for invaluable backstory, turning what could have been merely a thinking person’s version of COPS into a remarkable explication of the event. Do Nascimento, a serial mugger and drug abuser who eventually died in custody, was hardly an innocent, but Padilha portrays him as a victim in a bigger story than the Bus 174 hijacking. In an all-too-representative Rio-street-kid history, do Nascimento becomes both an orphan and a witness to his mother’s murder at age 6. Later, he’s an inmate in a decrepit, overcrowded prison, then an escapeeas well as a survivor of the infamous Candelária massacre, in which police killed several members of a Rio child gang in their sleep. Bus 174 aims for a responsible retelling of the hijacking and the events that preceded it, with no loss to cinematic revelation. The standoff’s resolution is both predictable and incredibleespecially when seen from multiple angles and in Douglas Gordon-style slo-mo. It’s a tour-de-force moment: Caught on film, an intended action becomes an accident, and the accident a grotesque monument to failureboth an individual’s and a state’s. Todd Hitchcock