The post “Breaking Bad” glut of anti-hero centric crime flicks only had so much to work with. A man, seeking fortune or some means of providing for his loved ones, descends into the criminal underworld and discovers his true self. “Serra Pelada,” save for an abrupt turn at the end, follows these beats exactly. Besides its performances, it’s an unexceptional bundle of cliches.
Seeking a better life for his family, Joaquim (Julio Andrade, “Maresia”) decides to mine for gold at Serra Pelada, a real-life Brazilian gold mine which operated in the 1980s. His life-long friend, Juliano (Juliano Cazarre, “Neon Bull”) comes along and they soon strike it rich. It isn’t long before Juliano gives into the power, and Joaquim is forced to choose between his fortune and his best friend.
The movie’s main problem is with its characters. Joaquim is a seemingly good man, working mostly out of love for his family, and Juliano is obviously a bit darker, lusting after power and money, but they never become more than these motivations. Worse still, viewers don’t learn enough about Joaquim’s family, or Juliano in general, to care much about them. Stars Andrade and Cazarre make the most of what little they’re given.
Andrade paints Joaquim as a naive idealist, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed until reality sets in. There, the performance takes a darker turn, hinting at the collapse of those ideals. Cazarre is the perfect foil is stone-faced Juliano. Beneath his stoicism, there’s something like compassion, but Cazarre plays the character’s darker side with a momentous energy.
The movie, too, has that kind of momentum. It gets to the point quickly and lingers on it, sometimes for far too long. Since the setting needs some explanation, newsreel style interjections break up the action often. When the plot picks up, however, those interjections slow everything down. It gets grating and makes the movie feel overlong at 100 minutes. “Serra Pelada” reaches for something new right at the end, but the turn is too abrupt to be believable or even interesting.
The movie doesn’t quite feel like a waste of time, but it comes close. It rides on the performances of its leads because it has little new to offer. The only original part is the setting, and it’s utilized decently, but never distracts from the tired story taking place in it. Couple that with ultimately useless interjections about that setting, “Serra Pelada” plays like a sloppier, less-affecting “City of God.” See it for the performances because there’s not much else to look at.