Break Away, by Sarah Brinks
I’m going to admit straight off the bat that I am often hesitant when it comes to watching “sports movies”. I am also the first to admit that my hesitancy is usually unfounded. Keeping all that in mind the truth is that Hermano isn’t really a soccer movie. There is some soccer in it, but the focus is really on the two main characters, Julio (Eliú Armas) and Daniel (Fernando Moreno), and the life they are trying to escape by making it onto a professional soccer team.
The basic plot of the film is that Julio and his mother adopt Daniel after they find him abandoned in a pile of garbage as an infant. The bothers play soccer for their slums’ team. A scout for a professional soccer team comes to a playoff game and offers Julio and Daniel the opportunity to try-out for the Caracas Football Club. It isn’t just a try-out to play professional soccer, it is the chance to escape the slum and get a better life they would otherwise not achieve. This amazing high is immediately struck down by the tragic, accidental murder of their mother. Their mother’s death splits the two and leaves them with a choice between finding their mother’s killer and sacrificing their dreams of playing soccer and letting go of revenge by trying out for the football club and making a new life for themselves. Julio is bent on revenge and Daniel wants to play soccer.
Overall Hermano is a well-made film. It does two things particularly well. The first is showing what life in Venezuelan slums is like. You see how the older bother Julio works for the gang as an enforcer and drug dealer. He appears to not have a choice. His mother is a baker and cannot support the family without financial help from Julio. Daniel is only seventeen so he is still going to school and has so far been spared having to work for the gang. One of the most interesting moments is when the gang leader says to Julio that he should give up the gang and play soccer. He tells him to get a better life and that soccer is the only way he will get it. Survival from day to day is how they live their lives and Hermano shows that to great effect.
The second thing the film does really well is showing the complex relationship that exists between brothers. You see how they both need each other and also how they hurt each other because they love each other. Julio becomes obsessed with finding their mother’s murder and Daniel is still trying to scrape together a professional soccer career. They push each other away when they need each other most. Daniel knows the secret of who killed their mother but keeps it from Julio because he wants the best for his brother. He refuses to sign a soccer contract unless they see his brother play too.
Both Armas and Moreno are very good as Julio and Daniel. They handle the soccer scenes well, but they really excel at the serious dramatic scenes. Watching them each struggle with the death of their mother is very compelling. Daniel handles it the way you would imagine a seventeen year old who just lost his adopted mother would. He cries and wallows a little but rallies and tries to live the life he knows his mother wanted for him. Moreno captures the youthful innocence that makes you route for Daniel well. The coach in the film refers to Julio as casting a large shadow. Armas captures that in his performance. He has an intensity as Julio that makes you understand why the gang would use him as an enforcer. He also shows a softer side with Daniel that is equally touching.
One of the films greatest weaknesses is the soccer scenes. The action in the scenes is not very compelling and a little difficult to follow. Soccer is a low scoring sportand it can be difficult to make look interesting. It is however a very technical game that requires a lot of skill and training, none of this is on display in Hermano. It would have helped for the climax of the final game of the film if the technical skill had been on the screen and if the action had been clearer. The rest of the film is well shot and the subtitles are easy to read.
Hermano is a compelling story with realistic characters set in a heart-breaking environment. The film is well made and the acting very strong. Even people who aren’t sports fans will find themselves cheering on the brothers both on and off the field.