"Bus 174" takes a lot of serious issues under its wing. Doing so is risky; much of what director Jose Padilha discusses will not exactly be news to many people, and past documentaries that have tried to explore the roots of violence with all the implications this film carries have been meandering and incoherent, somehow losing themselves along the way. However, Padilha avoids all these traps and creates something that is at once a wakeup call, thriller, unflinching criticism, and call to action.
The inciting event in "Bus 174" is the June 12, 2000 highjacking of bus 174 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A man named Sandro do Nascimento took the bus, and all its passengers, hostage. Due to the fact that the bus was in a popular, busy district of the city and there was a surprising lack of solid police barricades, television crews were able to get remarkably (and perhaps dangerously) close to the bus; broadcasting the entire incident live. "Bus 174" closely analyzes the event while looking at Sandro do Nascimento's life and why, the film hypothesizes, it is not primarily his fault that he ended up the way he did.
In "Bus 174", Padilha takes aim at the Brazilian government and its popular media, particularly at their treatment towards the "lost children" of Brazil. The "lost children", it is explained, are children born of families so poor that their only refuge is gang violence. We've heard this argument before; that poverty leads to violence, but "Bus 174" assures that it is not that simple. There are years of deep social and governmental failures that have lead to conditions like these. Again, something that shouldn't be too unfamiliar to a politically aware person.
What makes "Bus 174" extraordinary is its complete emotional and structural clarity. Padilha cuts fluidly from interviews to footage of the highjacking to his own filmed investigation and back again; aided by aerial helicopter shots that give the viewer their geographical bearings. Every step of the highjacking is nerve wracking, and even those who know the outcome may very well be horrified again, realizing what the film observes. But no matter how complex "Bus 174" becomes in its investigation, the focus is always brought back to this single event and this single human being, Sandro do Nascimento. Thus lies the film's intimacy.
In that way, Padilha creates what a film of this sort absolutely needs to be. "Bus 174" is no blind political rant, nor is it simply an energized attack. Due partly to the film's editorial brilliance and partly to the potency of the subject itself, "Bus 174" is a pointed, concise epic. This does not rise from pompousness or exploitation of the event, but out of pure necessity.
One of the greatest testaments to "Bus 174" is once one comes out of it, one becomes not only aware, but is able to immediately recognize what needs to be done about the grave injustices uncovered in the film, and to some extent, how to go about doing it. It is also easy to see how this story can be related to almost every country around the world. For that alone, "Bus 174" is a film that I not only recommend, but would say needs to be seen by all.