Review: Young ‘Pelé' biopic fails to capture spark of soccer icon

“Pelé: Birth of a Legend”
Young Pelé (Leonardo Lima Carvalho) in Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s movie “Pelé: Birth of a Legend.”
(Ique Esteves / IFC Films)

The childhood years of Brazil’s national treasure have been given a lamentably pedestrian big-screen treatment by “Pelé: Birth of a Legend.”

Chronicling the formative events leading up to 17-year-old Edson Nascimento’s goal-winning triumph against the then-Soviet Union at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the American production, written and directed by documentary filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Mike Zimbalist, certainly had a deserving subject (played as a teen by Kevin de Paula) at their disposal.

But while dutifully ticking off the various episodes informing Pele’s journey from an impoverished upbringing in Sao Paolo to becoming an instant international sensation, the brothers’ script fails to satisfy the dramatic requirements of a narrative feature.

Certainly the choice to have the entire cast, including Brazilian recording star Seu Jorge as Pelé’s father and Vincent D’Onofrio as team coach Vicente Feola speaking English, however commercially motivated, doesn’t lend an immediacy and dimension to characters who already feel like they’re being viewed from the sidelines.


Even with 75-year-old Pelé on board as an executive producer and A.R. Rahman, the Oscar-winning composer of Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” layering in the buoyant Brazilian rhythms, the outcome remains frustratingly lifeless.

One can only imagine the energetic spark that a Boyle-Pelé match-up might have generated.


‘Pele: Birth of a Legend’


MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, some smoking and language

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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