Film Review: Sergio
Director: Greg Barker
Black Rabbit Media
Streaming on Netflix: 04.17
Sérgio Vieira de Mello was a widely respected UN diplomat and humanitarian who served for more than 34 years in places ranging from Cambodia to his final assignment in Iraq, where he was tragically killed in the 2003 bombing of the Canal Hotel along with 20 members of his staff. This was a man who lived an extraordinary life that could have made for an engrossing story in the hands of the right film maker—in fact, it did in 2009 as a documentary directed by Greg Barker, who has returned to bring De Mello’s story to life in a narrative biopic drama. In doing so, he proves that, just because you can tell a story well once does not necessarily mean you can do it again.
The film follows Sergio (Wagner Moura, perhaps best known for his role on Narcos) who has spent his distinguished career working in the world’s most unstable regions, expertly brokering deals with revolutionaries, war criminals and Presidents in order to improve the lives of ordinary people. But as he gets ready to settle down in Rio with the woman he loves (Ana de Armas, Knives Out), he is pulled back into the field for one more assignment in Baghdad following the U.S. invasion. As Sergio throws himself into the work, he makes allies and enemies along the way as he brings to light Human Rights violations by the United States. But when a bomb blast topples the UN building, he is pinned under the rubble and can only helplessly hold on for dear life as the rescuers fight to get him out.
Sergio is a glossy and pretty film that is also totally lacking in focus, with the fragmented story loosely framed by the bombing and Sergio’s life essentially flashing before his eyes (and ours) in fairly random order. Now, I get the fact that if you are looking back on your life and that life included a sexual relationship with Ana de Armas, you are going to dwell on that a bit. But screenwriter Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club) seems to be so lost when it comes to how to portray a life of diplomacy in a dramatically gripping way that he makes the unfortunate choice to lean heavily into the rather unexceptional love story. In turn, director Barker presents this narrative like a soggy, overwrought Richard Chamberlain miniseries or a Ralph Fiennes movie from the early ’90s
This creative pair also so determined to portray their protagonist as a flawed human being that they do it a bit too successfully. The moments where Sergio comes across as a self-absorbed jerk stuck with me more than many of the rushed and rambling sequences that attempt to portray his idealism. One very memorable sequence featuring Sergio speaking to an old woman in Cambodia gives a glimpse of the film that might have been, but it’s not enough.
Moura does a capable job in the role, but I found his performance to be a bit flat, and he can’t match the star quality and charisma of De Armas. But by far the most engaging performance comes from Garret Dillahunt (Raising Hope) as a rescuer trying to dig the protagonist out of the rubble.
Sergio isn’t a bad film, but it’s hardly the movie that its subject deserved. It’s just another mediocre biopic that feels like a bumpy ride on a deserted road that may or may not be leading anywhere, and you will learn more about the man and his accomplishments by reading the Wikipedia entry on his life. –Patrick Gibbs