Life is cheap in this searing Brazilian documentary about the real-life hijacking of a bus in Rio de Janeiro in June 2000 by a homeless, drug-addicted street kid named Sandro do Nascimento. Broadcast live on Brazilian television, the four-hour stand-off let the nation watch as its incompetent, poorly trained police force struggled to contain the explosive situation. A stunning indictment of Brazil's social meltdown, this startling documentary plays like City Of God - except this time the bullets are real.
The hijacking itself is a catalogue of errors: the police failed to seal off the bus, letting camera crews and Joe Public wander within inches of its windows while Sandro stalked around inside with a .38 revolver. As a result, SWAT team snipers were told not to shoot because the event was being broadcast live on national television.
"BRILLIANT, INCENDIARY FILMMAKING"
In interviewing Sandro's friends, family, and social workers, directors José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda also tell another story - the harsh realities of life in Brazil's slums. Tracing the social deprivation that led Sandro to that bus - from the overcrowded, brutal Carandiru-style prison cells that he'd recently been released from, to the abject misery of Rio's street kids - Bus 174 proves an eye-opening, distressing film.
A survivor of Brazil's notorious Candelária massacre in which police officers randomly killed a group of unarmed street kids, Sandro is as much a product of the nation's systemic, institutionalised violence as anything else. It's something that's brought home by the chilling interviews with police officers, criminals, and jailors about the realities of Third World justice.
When the police finally act, the results are inevitably tragic but also completely unexpected. One thing's certain: there are no happy endings in this town. As Sandro screams at the assembled media hounds: "This ain't no action movie, this is some serious s*** bro!" Brilliant, incendiary filmmaking, Bus 174 proves just how true that statement really is.
In Portuguese with English subtitles.