Bus 174 chronicles the hijacking of a passenger bus in Brazil in 2000, an event which was broadcast throughout the country. The difference between this and a Hollywood action movie, however, is that this drama actually happened!
Director and co-producer Jose Padilha skillfully uses the live broadcast footage of the four-hour standoff between the hijacker and the police, mixing in recent interviews with nearly everyone who was involved. Thus, Padilha dissects this tragic event, which had "gripped an entire nation," as a way to understand its causes and ramifications.
Padilha reaches back into the childhood of the hijacker, Sandro do Nascimento, and discovers how his brutal, impoverished childhood converted a well-adjusted boy into an angry youth. Padilha follows Sandro's stints in jail and the criminal activities of the gangs with which he became associated. Through detailed research, the director makes a strong case for indicting society as much as the criminal for his transgressive act. (Conservatives will not like this theorizing.) But Padilha also makes sure to include the viewpoints of the hostages, the relatives of the hostages, the SWAT team members (including a sniper), Sandro's relatives, Sandro's fellow gang members and local reporters.
It may no longer be so original to tells stories from multiple points of view (witness NBC's "Boomtown"), but Padilha does an admirable job, just as he explores the larger implications of today's over-hyped media events, which usually get saturation coverage but little follow-up.
The film's drawbacks include its excessive length and a surprising dearth of discussion about race, particularly considering how much class and poverty are emphasized and the fact that Sandro is noticeably a dark-skinned Brazilian.
As a documentary, Bus 174 works hard to report in-depth, like good investigative journalism. For all its virtues, though, it does not quite reach the touching poetic heights of Los Olvidados or Pixote, two realistic (but fictional) tragedies about poor street children who drift into lives of violent crime.
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