On the surface this is the story of a heist gone wrong. A poor homeless young drug addict is trapped in the process of robbing bus passengers in Rio and a standoff ensues. Due to police incompetence the whole thing ends up being broadcast live and direct across Brazil.
The story that unfolds is fascinating. Director Jose Padhila meets some of the key protagonists in both the event itself and the life of the hostage taker, Sandro. It is here a more complex story emerges and Padilha neatly weaves this into the narrative of the main event.
What shocks is how utterly unglamorous the whole incident is. Our usual vision of hostage situations is through the lense of a Hollywood camera, making it exciting and beautiful. Here the TV footage reveals chaos and panic but also how utterly ordinary it all seems. Yet underneath it all is a real sense of fear and desperation which both drive the story forwards whilst also compelling you to keep watching, as the millions of TV viewers did back in June 2000.
Throughout the film a varying cast recount their memories and observations. Some do come across as quite unpleasant people. The street gang friend of Sandro's seems full of bravado and arrogance whilst the special police officer (both disguised) seems to find no value in the lives of the homeless street people.
It is this which leaves the most lasting impression. Watching this film it is sad to conclude that the lives of the street people really aren't viewed as all that important. It is a wonderful damning insight into a world you would never see, and a million miles from the Favella chic of "City Of God". A deftly told story which will probably leave you with the one emotion utterly absent throughout the film itself, outrage.