Film biographies tend to follow familiar patterns. The subject is shown at their beginnings, usually in an impoverished situation, and then slowly climbs the ladder of success to a final triumph. Many have used this template to craft a predictable film most often presenting a person in a Christ-like persona. The challenge for film-makers is how to make theirs different which is something those involved in Pelé: Birth of a Legend attempt. A mostly inspiring tale, it’s a reasonably engaging exploration of how spirited determination can over-come any obstacle.
When Brazil loses the World Cup soccer in 1950, one of its citizens, Pelé (Kevin de Paula), aims to regain his country’s honour. Promising his father he will win the cup for Brazil in 1958, little does he know the legend he creates. Quickly becoming one of the best soccer players Brazil has seen, his commitment to his craft galvanises a nation. Pelé realises the effect his actions have with the looming World Cup campaign squarely putting the hopes of his people on his broad shoulders.
Directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Pelé: Birth of a Legend is a fair look at the early life of an important sporting icon. How Pelé spurred a languishing sense of national pride is something the narrative examines as well as sport’s class structure. These elements are interwoven amongst many training scenes where the slow-motion photography goes into over-drive. Whilst these are interesting, they never truly make you feel you know the subject better than when the film began.
This is perhaps its biggest problem, as Pelé: Birth of a Legend fails to take many risks within the typical biopic formula. You can almost see the script mechanics working in full view, never quite sure whether events are played out as really happened. As a general overview of Pelé’s beginnings it is intriguing, making you want to know more. The cast do a fine job in spite of the screenplay’s flaws, with the excellent musical soundtrack giving the soccer sequences the raw intensity they require.
Pelé: Birth of a Legend is okay without being memorable. A more involved script and broader overview of his career perhaps may have been better but as a story of someone’s determination to regain a nation’s pride it kicks home goals worthy of Pelé’s sporting talents.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 6
Pelé: Birth of a Legend will be released on DVD and Digital from 17 August 2016.