Hot-tempered, impulsive Julio (Eliú Armas) loves his younger adopted brother Daniel (Fernando Moreno), who was found in a trash dump as a baby and is his exact opposite: vulnerable, sweet, and responsible. They love each other and are a lethal combination when they play for the same team, but fierce competitors when they play one-on-ones. Word of their talent reaches a scout for Caracas F.C., one of Venezuela's top teams, and the brothers get a chance to try out and be signed by the team. But when tragedy hits the brothers, things get complicated and they must make fast decisions that affect their game, their family, their future, and their relationship.
That this is a movie about soccer, and not baseball (still Venezuela's favorite pastime) reflects the fact that, in recent years, the Venezuelan national team has become one of the best in South America after decades of being the weakest. The realistic soccer scenes are shot by someone who understands the game and is able to reflect the language and passion of it (even though I could've used less music in the game scenes; nothing beats the natural sound of soccer itself), and some of Venezuela's best real-life professional players briefly appear. When things get violent, first-timer Marcel Rasquín proves to be a skilled director and doesn't overdo the bloodiness of the scene. The characters are solid and the acting, for the most part, fine. Rasquín wraps it up beautifully with a perfect ending he could've milked more if he was a manipulator, but he decided to stop right there in a show of good taste that saved the movie.
The problem is very simple: the writing. I don't know whether Rasquín is a fan of or reluctantly had to grow up with telenovelas (as popular in Venezuela as they are in Mexico), but most of the movie is marred by the same lousy rhythm, mannerisms, sentimentality, and (except for the ending) predictability of even the best telenovelas. I could quote several scenes to illustrate this, but I'll just mention the one that made me want to throw up:
At a key scene, when the brothers' team is losing badly during a final, their coach gets them together at half-time and solemnly tells them, "Life is always going to score against us ... That's why we have to always believe the score is 0-0." Yes, it sounds as bad in Spanish as it sounds in English.
Which is a shame, because the movie is there, you root for these kids, you believe what's going on in spite of moments like these, but when the movie finally had to score it sent the ball to the stands.
Hermano won several audience and jury awards as Best Movie and Best Actor (Moreno at the Huelva Festival), and it has its merits. But I'd rather hear a six-hour Hugo Chávez speech than some of this dialogue. Not everyone can be, say, Guillermo Arriaga, but a movie like this (and actors like these) deserved better. — Enrique Lopetegui
Dir. Marcel Rasquín; writ. Rohan Jones, Marcel Rasquín; feat. Fernando Moreno, Eliú Armas, Alí Rondón
Opens Aug. 24 at Regal Cielo Vista 18, 2828 Cinema Ridge