Venezuelan filmmaker Marcel Rasquin’s Hermano is a well-meaning melodrama, equal parts heartfelt and contrived. Things start off somewhat queasily: En route to a birthday party with his mother, Graciela (Marcela Girón), young Julio (Eliú Armas) overhears the cries of a newborn baby emanating from a trash heap. The camera lingers unnecessarily on this image, revealing not only a creepy animatronic orphan, but filmmaking of the unimaginatively button-pushing sort, unable to develop or contextualize a scenario, frontloading easy drama at the expense of profundity. After a moment of hesitation upon discovering the abandoned tot, the two take him in as one of their own. Sixteen years later, Julio and his adopted brother, Daniel (Fernando Moreno), are competing for the championship match in a local soccer league, an opportunity that affords them the attention of a professional scout looking for “fresh legs.” Julio’s involvement with the local underworld sees to their family’s food and shelter, but the reckless territoriality of one of his brothers in crime ends with a stray bullet in Graciela’s chest, and puts the quietly bystanding Daniel on the spot when Julio nearly goes mad with his thirst for revenge.
Like its crude opening scene, Hermano’s portrayal of random violence is borderline tasteless in its calculated obviousness, and all the more so considering the film’s purportedly lived-in, faux-vérité style (like Paul Greengrass trying to pass himself off as Charles Burnett). Occasional condescension aside, Hermano is a curious oddity that could have benefited from a few minor nip/tucks. A pregnancy subplot intended to further illuminate Daniel’s sense of honor comes off as pandering and only serves to distract from the core proceedings, while a climatic turn of events remains strangely uncommented on. Though eye-rolling metaphors about the goals life scores against us are abundant, there are some choice shots (the departed Graciela’s legs) and cuts that suggest a natural eye for composition and movement. There are also moments of unexpected resonance: An impromptu dance session captures the awkwardness of adolescent bonding, and a violent exchange between a hotheaded Julio and his ruthless but enlightened cartel boss speaks to the multitude of ways love can be expressed.
Hermano’s ambitions ultimately break even with its mawkish ineptitude, and while the result is certainly more impressive than that of the average underdog sports film, the lingering aftertaste is that of what could have been.