Directed by David Tryhorn & Ben Nicholas
Football, real football not our Americanized version of it, is a sport which is easily the most popular in the world, but still remains well behind a number of others in America. Heck, we call it “soccer”, what a horrible name. But the point is, I have little to no knowledge of history of the game of football outside of a couple basics because I’m a big sports fan. I know who Lionel Messi is, for instance, and I know that Pelé is the greatest player to ever play the game. I’ve also recently been introduced to Maradona as potentially being the best? See, I don’t know much about the history of the game, especially when compared to my deep knowledge of something like baseball. I enjoy “soccer”, however, tuning into English Premier League games on weekend mornings for something to watch, and definitely getting into the World Cup every four years, even if the Americans never do well. And while I live in a city where we have an MLS team, I rarely make it down to game, and couldn’t tell you anybody who is on the roster. But we won the MLS Cup! I really should get more into football.
With such a huge figure in the world’s largest, most popular sport, you’d figure Pelé was already a well known and well covered figure. And maybe he is, but I wasn’t able to find much in terms of film that covered the living legend. His story is at least new to me, so in that regard this film is actually an extremely effective entry point. It plays as a very standard bio-doc which covers his career from childhood, when he joined the Brazilian club team Santos, to national hero and the only player to have ever won three World Cup titles. It is very much so a traditional cradle to “grave” documentary which takes its stops along the way to cover various topics like Pelé’s hesitance to get involved in any politics, and his exploits both as an international player and Brazilian, bringing national pride back to a populace that had seemed to have lost it when it came to sports and the international stage.
What was fascinating to me was seeing the highlights of Pelé’s playing. He is breathtaking to watch, with such incredible ball control and moving so light and fast. He really pops off the screen compared to those around him, with field vision that is incomparable. Since I saw the film, I’ve seen a few EPL games and the difference is remarkable, really highlighting the skills and superhuman abilities of Pelé. Given, the film covers a 15 year career and cherry picks the highlights from the best player in the world, which likely makes him look a little more superhuman than he really was, but the plays on display still happened, they were still plays that nobody else could have pulled off so easily and effortlessly.
As a film, Pelé doesn’t do anything new, outstanding, or superhuman like its subject. Instead, it’s the solid role player who knows his job and executes it well, leaving the space and opportunity for its superstar teammate. This film is nothing to write home about. I know more about Pelé than I did going in, but I knew nothing. I don’t see the film being revealing to any larger fans of the game, but what do I know about football anyway? But as a casual fan who is just now diving a little deeper into the history of the game, I was engaged throughout, excited to learn about the history of one of the sports greatest of all-time. As such, this is a competent, entry-level film which does nothing with the subject or genre that hasn’t already been done a million times. But it does it well, so I can’t knock it for that.