I mentioned, I believe in my Surfwise review, that the list seems to always have a slot for a modern day documentary, and that this placement keeps cycling between films as they get added, then removed from the list. Here’s another one that fits that criteria. Bus 174 is the story of a hostage situation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which takes place on board the numbered bus of the title. The man responsible, the hostage taker, we eventually find out is named Sandro do Nascimento, and he holds a group of people captive on the bus for four hours, while the media captures the whole event live on camera. The director, Jose Padilha, is smarter than to just give us an account of the event, which would be a TV special rather than a documentary. Here, he juxtaposes Nascimento with the plight of the poor urban youth on the streets of Rio, and how such a violent and tumultuous upbringing could’ve led Nascimento to do what he did.
The film opens with an absolutely beautiful long tracking shot of Rio, from the water to the mountains to the cluttered streets below. It frequently cuts away to helicopter shots of the city, which add a great deal to the film’s watchability. The film uses a lot of interview pieces with various talking heads, which give elaboration on the conflict as we see it through. None of them are named; it’s not about them. It’s about the conflict, and the man at the center of it. Nascimento is a terrified, unpredictable young man, and unless you have prior knowledge of the event before seeing this, you never really know what direction the story will go in next, which makes for a very compelling watch. For once, I’d recommend not looking up anything about this film before going into it; I was fortunate that the Wikipedia article was essentially spoiler-free, so I went into this only knowing the basic plot, and I came out rather pleased with the experience.
For me, Bus 174 worked because, to put it plainly, it wasn’t boring. It took a situation already rife with drama, and thus viewership, and made of it something more. Even if you don’t watch the film with the secondary layer of information in mind, you’ll still be able to get through it on the hostage crisis alone. It may be kind of morbid to view a hostage situation as something to glean entertainment from, but it’s not in an exploitative way. It is real, as real as it can get, and we want to know that these people will end up safe, and at some deeper level, why the hijacker is acting the way he is. Bus 174 is an excellent example of how to get these sort of answers across in a highly accessible way. Besides it being subtitled, this is a documentary that, along with Surfwise, I feel I could recommend to a pretty wide berth of moviegoers and not have them walk out on the screening because it’s a documentary. And as far as documentaries go, that’s pretty near to the highest praise I can give one.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10
700 reviews! Wee.