Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the best players soccer has ever seen and yet one of the most polarizing too. Thus, his biopic not only must capture the extraordinary life of a three-time Ballon D’Or winner, but it also has the difficult task of portraying one of the biggest egos in the sport. Directed by three-time BAFTA winner Anthony Wonke and produced by recent Academy Award winner Asif Kapadia (Amy), Ronaldo (2015) essentially encapsulates the athlete’s 2014 season while reaching far beyond soccer, as it explores his personal relationships and his teenage years on the road to stardom.
The Portuguese captain himself stars in the near 100-minute documentary to recreate moments from his past that viewers were not privy to. Most importantly we get to observe him as an individual, father, son, and brother as opposed to the goal-scoring machine we see on the pitch. Although not as expansive and definitive as it could have been, the movie does a great job of opening up Ronaldo’s world and most importantly drawing us into his life’s most significant moments.
As a result, we learn some revealing information about the soccer star, including more about the sacrifices he made during his childhood, the alcoholic habits of his brother and father, and the fact that he was an unwanted child. Contrary to what one may imagine given his reputation for flamboyance, we discover that Ronaldo mostly leads a solitary life, much of which we don’t actually know about.
Within the first few minutes of the movie, the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry establishes itself as a prominent theme. We watch Lionel Messi winning the Ballon D’Or for the fourth year straight, while in a voiceover of both honesty and utter disappointment, Ronaldo mentions how difficult it was for him to lose four times in a row and that he did not feel like attending the ceremony anymore. Later in the film, we come across a much lighter and heartwarming moment in the rivalry when Ronaldo introduces a shy yet fascinated Cristiano Jr. to his longtime nemesis Messi on the eve of the Ballon D’Or ceremony.
This is where Jorge Mendes, who Ronaldo narcissistically labels “the Cristiano Ronaldo of agents” in a moment of mutual admiration, plays his part. Smartly dressed and screaming wealth, Mendes is either seen almost constantly busy on the phone or discussing Ronaldo’s candidacy for what he believes to be an almost certain Ballon D’Or for the Portuguese. Critics have deplored the duo’s obsession with the Ballon D’Or in the movie. However, it is important to note that such an atmosphere in the Ronaldo camp may have been a result of four consecutive defeats, naturally increasing the anticipation when glory seemed imminent after a remarkable season. Ronaldo’s emotional reaction on finally winning the Ballon D’Or again after being relegated to second place for four years succinctly yet perfectly illustrates the significance of the honor for him. Ronaldo and Mendes enjoy a fair share of screen time together and we realize Mendes’s place as more of a surrogate father rather than his agent.
Some humility would surely make Ronaldo more appealing, but the film keeps it real, as he does himself. Disappointed after an early exit from the 2014 World Cup despite single-handedly taking his nation through the qualifiers, a frustrated Ronaldo remarks that things would be much better if the team had “at least two or three more Cristiano Ronaldo’s.” While critics are quick to label the movie as “an advertisement” pointing to such evident “self-obsession” in the film, it is this downright blatancy and hubris which makes Ronaldo unique.
Citing Ronaldo’s continuous self-obsession and overall glorification in the film, Daniel Taylor in a review for The Guardian amusingly remarks, “it is difficult not to come away with the feeling that Ronaldo must shout his own name during sex.” Although there may be some truth to that statement (figuratively, of course), it is no secret that Ronaldo is slightly on the narcissistic side, which is exactly what the film adeptly encompasses and even explains with plenty of authenticity.
The film projects both his success and ego as a result of his perseverance and fierce will to win, rather than a result of the natural talent observed by his friends, coaches, and recruiters alike since a young age. He believes it is his mindset of considering himself to be the best that has always been the key to his success.
Ronaldo helps the viewer understand his self-obsession, possibly even to the extent of nudging the haters to reconsider. Although the film faced considerable criticism for its lack of objectivity, in my opinion, the documentary manages to strike a great balance between humanizing the global icon and yet guiltlessly portraying his egotistical personality as a subset of his profession. It simply sheds light on an already remarkable athlete, emphasizing his sole ambition of being perfect at any cost.