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Pelé: Birth of a Legend | Biopic of football's greatest icon fails to hit the back of the net

Pelé Birth of a Legend Leonardo Carvalho
(Image credit: © Icon Film Distribution)

Pelé: Birth of a Legend Leonardo Carvalho

A boy with nothing who changed everything. 

As its title suggests, sporting biopic Pelé: Birth of a Legend focuses on the Brazilian football legend's early life, covering the eight years that took him from scrappy slum kid in a São Paulo favela to 17-year-old star of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Along the way, the 'shoeless wonder' has to vanquish snobby rivals, rigid coaches and self-doubt before he can inspire his team to victory, putting his trust in the spirit of 'ginga', Brazil's native capoeira-inspired style of play.

A rousing tale of underdog achievement, by any measure. But the telling here is overly mushy and the accents are all over the place (Vincent D'Onofrio pops up as Brazil's national team coach). Brazilian musician Seu Jorge, however, brings great dignity to the role of Pelé's janitor father and Pelé himself makes a knowing cameo appearance.

Certificate PG. Runtime 102 mins. Director Michael Zimbalist

Pelé: Birth of a Legend debuts on Sky Cinema Premiere on 14 January. Available on Blu-ray & DVD from Icon Home Entertainment.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.