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'Bus 174'

Friday, March 28, 2003

By Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

What led 21-year-old Sandro do Nascimento to board a Rio de Janiero bus in broad daylight and take a group of hostages?

 
 
'Bus 174'

CRITIC'S CALL:

Unrated but R in nature for violence and nudity

   
 

Was it the drugs? Was it the tortured boyhood memory of watching his mother brutally stabbed? Was it revenge against police who murdered at least seven of his street friends in a midnight massacre? Or was it, as one expert speculates, a desperate act to erase his "invisibility"?

Whatever it was, we don't know what to think or whose side to take by the end of "Bus 174," a documentary/thriller that is more gripping than "Speed" could ever hope to be.

What looks like a clear-cut act of evil takes on layers of intrigue in the hands of filmmaker Joe Padilha. First off, this was an incident that captivated the country when it was broadcast live on Brazilian television on June 12, 2000.

The appearance of the media almost immediately complicated the issue for the police teams surrounding the bus. Under the glare of television, not only would their every move be scrutinized, but they were reluctant to put on a bloody show in front of the viewing audience, even though they had any number of easy opportunities to take Nascimento out.

While Nascimento held a pistol to the heads of various young women on the bus, yelling "the heat is on" and "this ain't no action movie," the police were paralyzed by inaction -- particularly, because, as the negotiator says, "We were dealing with somebody who didn't want anything."

Padilha cuts away from the scene to show us the hardships Nascimento had endured: the murder of his mother, homelessness, police brutality, an abusive juvenile institution and horrific prison conditions.

Padilha doesn't apologize for this drug-addled street criminal, but he builds the case for how the system in Rio failed to offer this traumatized youth the help he may have needed and, thus, may have perpetuated the cycle of violence.

As the evening wears on, the events on "Bus 174" become nail-bitingly suspenseful and tragic. Nascimento doesn't have it in him to act on his threat to kill the hostages, who, like in "Dog Day Afternoon," are becoming sympathetic to his plight.

But the heat is definitely on and Nascimento, the police and the cameras have created a situation that is beyond the point of no return.

After seeing "Bus 174," you may never look at such a crime the same way again.

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