The Brazilian press called him “the fashion thief.”
Pedro Machado Lomba Neto, a.k.a. “Pedro Dom,” the blonde green-eyed son of a retired police officer, led a criminal gang that targeted Rio’s well-to-do in a series of intrepid and very violent house and apartment robberies in 2004 and 2005. He loved designer clothes and cocaine, and, according to some press reports, threatened his victims with a hand grenade.
He was killed, at the age of 23, in a shootout with the police.
His story is tailor-made for the movies… or at least a TV mini-series. And we now have one: Dom, Amazon Prime Video’s first original Brazilian drama series, based on O Beixo Da Bruja by Dom’s father, Luiz Victor Lomba, and Tony Bellotto’s novel, Dom.
The eight-part mini-series may be named after the infamous thief but, as conceived by showrunner Breno Silveira, this simultaneously epic and intimate fusion of crime and family dramas is also about the ravages of drug addiction, Brazil’s war on drugs, father-son dynamics, and the rise of a media sensation (the series ends in a cliffhanger of sorts; Amazon Prime has yet to announce a second season).
The story begins in 1999 at a funk carioca party (a hip-hop style derived from Miami bass and gangsta rap) in the streets of Copacabana’s Tabajaras favela. There we meet Pedro Dantas (Gabriel Leone, wearing green contact lenses, his hair dyed blonde) dancing and sniffing cocaine while eyeing Jasmín (Raquel Villar), the current girlfriend of powerful gang leader Mauricinho. After calling all the emergency rooms, his father Víctor (Flávio Tolezani, bearing a strong resemblance to Al Pacino’s Serpico) hops onto his motorcycle and heads towards the favela where he causes quite a ruckus and drags his son kicking and screaming back to his apartment. He handcuffs Pedro to his bedpost but Pedro escapes, steals Víctor’s laptop, and heads back to the favela determined to live there on his own terms.
That first episode takes us back in time, to the ’70s, when a young Víctor Dantas (Filipe Bragança), a diver, is recruited by the military to map the underwater buoys used by the cartel to bring the drugs into Rio. In a separate flashback, the series introduces us to a younger Pedro Dantas (Guilherme Garcia) and his inseparable friend Lico (McCaverinha), the one responsible for introducing Pedro to cocaine. The series weaves past and present as it charts Pedro’s path to a life of crime and Víctor’s uphill battle with his son’s addiction, his role in that country’s nascent war on drugs, and the impact his career has on his family. (Even though the series doesn’t pass judgement on them, I find it quite interesting, and troubling, that Pedro’s mother is portrayed as mollycoddling and his sister as an enabler.)
After successfully completing his mission, the young Víctor volunteers to infiltrate Ribeiro’s (Fávio Lago) gang, which rules over the favela Santa Marta. Ribeiro foresees a time when cocaine will be every favela’s main economic engine. And like many drug lords before and after him, the residents of the favela look up to Ribeiro to provide the basic services deny them by the local and federal governments. He’s a hero to the community. Years later, Víctor, now officially employed by the civil police, takes Ribeiro down during a raid.
To feed his cocaine habit, the teenage Pedro resorts to petty theft, first by stealing from his own parents and then by robbing others. He and Lico are caught red-handed, and Víctor has no choice but to send him to rehab. After the tenth try, at the age of 18, Pedro is sent to a juvenile detention center where he comes out a changed man, and not in a good way.
Back in the present, after presumably ratting out Marcelinho in order to get his girl, Pedro takes over as leader of Marcelinho’s gang of luxury-home burglars, of which Lico and Jasmín are members. They build a network of informants that provides them with information and access to these abodes. At this point in the series, Pedro Dom and his gang are only hitting apartments where the owners are either out of town or spending a night out in the city. But after a traumatic incident, Pedro goes on a rampage and ODs. He goes back to rehab, this time at a facility outside Rio and manages to come out clean. It doesn’t last long and he falls back to his old ways.
Dom doesn’t mythologize, much less glorify, its title character, the milieu he comes from, or the world both he and his father engage with. It is, at its core, the story of a father and son whose lives took different paths. Much like his son, Víctor was at first driven by a sense of adventure, of finding his own way, of going against his father’s wishes. He is a good listener and an equally sharp observer, but ends up betraying the world he became a part of out of a sense of duty.
Víctor develops a moral compass of sorts; his son lacks one. The teenage Pedro is driven by impulse, consequences be damned. His smile is impish but also mocking. His cold, green eyes, his impenetrable gaze, work as a force field: they never let you in. But he can also seduce you with that smile, with that gaze. The series even hints at a neurological reason for his behavior. But Leone’s complex performance suggests that a human being is buried underneath that cold, calculating exterior. It shows up when Pedro tries to make amends after stealing his father’s laptop by buying him a new one. Or when a friend’s death sends him into a spiral of self-recrimination and self-hatred. Or during his final rehab stay where he shows signs of empathy, where you can tell he is at peace with himself for the first and last time.
Even though the series never loses sight of its social context—most of it taking place during the military dictatorship and its transition to a democratic government—time periods seem to meld into each other. Shot in 170 locations, the series benefits from that abrupt contrast between rich and poor, black and white, between the favelas and the ritzy apartments on Rio’s coastline, between paradisiacal beachfronts and houses piled one on top of another. Those very same inequities, the series suggests, allowed Dom and his gang to perpetrate their crimes.
The filmmaking is energetic and the editing frantic, especially during the heists, the many steamy (and almost explicit) sex scenes, and during those funk carioca parties. But it also knows when to stop and listen: the conversations around a couple of beers between Ribeiro and the young Víctor, or between father and son as they agree to tackle Pedro’s demons head-on. Its portrait of drug addiction and of a man driven by it is harrowing and uncompromising.
In a week that saw the streaming release of the Pablo Larraín-directed Stephen King adaptation of Lisey’s Story for Apple TV+ and the adaptation of Jeff Lemire’s comic book Sweet Tooth on Netflix, Dom, like many Latin American productions released by these streaming services in the past months, fell through the cracks. Amazon is partly responsible, given the zero amount of publicity they gave it in this country. In fact, far more publications in India wrote about it than in the United States (the series has even been dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Helugu).
But if you are a fan of Brazilian cinema, and think that Brazilian TV is nothing more than sexy or historical soap operas (even though HBO Latino has done a terrific job in producing and programming series from Brazil that are everything but those two genres), then Dom deserves your consideration. However, in the screeners I was given access to, the subtitles didn’t appear until almost a minute after the words came out of a character’s mouth. Viewer beware.