Film review:‘Pelé: Birth of a Legend’ fails to thump it home

The rise of the Brazilian football star Pelé and his inextricable connection with his country’s fortunes is the focus of the reverential biopic directed by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist. Shot on location, with Pelé as a co-producer, the movie recreates his childhood and ends with his arrival on the international football scene.
Between September 7, 1956, and October 1, 1977, Pelé scored a record-breaking 1,279 goals in 1,363 games. In 1999, he was voted Athlete of the Century by International Olympic Committee and a film on this inspiring legend, who was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, was long overdue.
The reverential biopic follows Pelé’s life from age 10 until he was part of his first World Cup winning team in 1958 at the age of 17. We follow Pelé’s humble beginnings, his family life, the story behind his nickname, his entry into professional club football at the age of 15, and his selection for the national football team a year later. Brazil’s loss to Uruguay during the 1950 World Cup championship was a low point in the country’s sporting history, and Pele’s words to his heartbroken father after the final are prophetic. “One day I’ll win it,” says the boy who goes on to become a member of the World Cup winning teams of 1958, 1962 and 1970.
At the core of the story is Pelé’s relationship with his family, in particular, his father, who uses mangoes to teach him some neat footie tricks. It’s a shame that the acting is so unrefined, the accents all over the place and the dialogue unnatural. The camera leans on colours associated with Brazil – blues, greens and yellows – and the editing comes alive in the exhilarating football games, especially with the incorporation of ginga (an element of capoeira that is based on fluid and constant movement) in the Brazilian playing style. AR Rahman’s rhythmic score, which uses samba and Latino beats, underlines the drama and thrills of the game.
Yet, Pelé’s ambition and struggles seem superficial and the resolutions too simple. The Zimbalist brothers do not effectively portray the claustrophobia of a Brazilian slum, or the poverty that propels the ambitions of people like Pelé.


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