A 21 year-old gunman enters a bus, robs the passengers, and then holds everyone hostage. The police surrounds the public vehicle as the TV crews broadcast the event live. The robber points his gun on a woman’s head. He says he’ll kill her if he doesn’t get more weapons and new bus driver to help him escape.

It sounds like the set-up to an action thriller. But it actually happened. It took place in Rio de Janiero on June 12th, 2000.

Bus 174

“Bus 174” is a mesmerizing study of how a movie premise can unfold in reality. In a Hollywood version, the gunman and the police would battle in a game of strengths and smarts. In this documentary, the story plays out so differently and arguably more riveting. I really thought it would be quite straightforward. “Bus 174” has its own surprising twists about the gunman, the hostages, and the police. We are reminded that people are indeed complex creatures and things always don’t go as planned (if there was a time to plan at all). It is also eye-opening how outside forces can throw off the state of the situation so easily. Like I said – this is riveting! You can’t make this shit up. It truly happened.

And that is just the hook. The documentary is ambitious and expansive in its investigation. It devotes a lot of time researching and humanizing Sandro Rosa do Nascimento, the now famed gunman. His growing up as an “invisible” on impoverished streets gives aching nuances to his disheartening actions on that momentous day. Suddenly, it becomes clear that the Bus 174 incident was just a small tragic outcome of an overpowering and ongoing social problem in Brazil.

I am grateful to have had a fairly safe childhood and I pray for kids who are sadly exposed to violence everyday. My lasting image of Sandro is not that of a punk who can justify his actions because of a violent past. I will think of him as a flickering hope of humanity for despite his dark history, he had dared and tried to be good even if he’s not equipped to. It is to film’s credit that Sandro will not be another statistics – written-off, swept-under, and forgotten.

This review is part of AROUND OF THE WORLD movie series.
“Bus 174” represents the country of Brazil.

Grade: A-

Directed by
José Padilha
Felipe Lacerda