Whether it's Pretty Woman Julia Roberts whooping it up alongside Richard Gere in the box office smash or depicted in advertisements featuring the likes of genetically gifted Nacho Figueras as “the face of Polo Ralph Lauren,” the sport of polo seems to be synonymous with the luxurious wealth enjoyed as an upper class privilege in these United States.
Hoping to change the elitist, playboy perception of one of the oldest games in the world, that is enjoyed by everyone from royal families to small children running to and from matches in its Argentine home, both Figueras and filmmaker Nathaniel McCullagh took part in this touching and eye-opening personal portrait of polo on American soil.
Fittingly given the title of The Polo Kid and tagline of “An American Prodigy” the documentary's main focus centers on the promising, naturally talented thirteen year old player Santiago Torres.
And while the elements of an underdog sports drama are there from the start as Santi journeys further away from his native California in his quest to play polo professionally, ultimately the work morphs into truly compelling study of a determined, supportive family doing their best to build their own American dream.
Training, playing and working alongside his eighteen year old brother Miguelito, both Torres sons strive to make their Argentinean immigrant father's polo dream a reality.
In addition to school and taking part in local matches, the brothers help out with the family business of training horses to become top polo ponies that they can sell to our country's finest clubs in order to stay afloat.
Of course, this is in stark contrast to some of the other players with whom they ride that have enough old family money in their bank to buy purchase the opportunities, horses, etc. that the Torres family works twice as hard to obtain on their own as a far cry from the stereotypical well-to-do polo scene.
Yet all the equipment and lessons in the world can't replace the one thing that Santi Torres possesses naturally which is amazing potential and talent.
At just thirteen years old when the film begins, the quiet dutiful son who lives to make his cancer riddled father proud on the field, Santi Torres is already on the international polo radar as McCullagh films some of the sport's most renowned and revered athletes who analyze his ability and pontificate about his future.
Since Santi isn't overly talkative, the work benefits considerably from extensive interview footage as McCullagh pieces together the puzzle of the talented lad with stories served up by family and friends alike as we follow Torres during triumph and tragedy by traveling to Mexico and Argentina when he joins the U.S. team and later gets the opportunity to explore his father's homeland with another club.
Admittedly at times the documentary threatens to wander into entirely different terrain as certain interviewees discuss what Santi's mother calls “polo-tics” (analyzing the sport's future and addressing charges of Argentine favoritism), overall it's an exceptionally well-crafted and fascinating snapshot of an extraordinary young man.
Similarly, it's one that's sure to make you discover the simple, beautiful truth behind the game of polo once you look beyond the facade of the rich and the snobs.
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