Sergio movie review: Well-intentioned ode to UN diplomat, played by Wagner Moura, falls short due to tiresome screenplay
Sergio is based on Samantha Power's biography Sergio: One Man’s Fight to Save the World.
Wagner Moura, who gained international recognition after playing the drug lord Pablo Escobar in Netflix’s Narcos (not without some backlash from the Colombian audience), now portrays the charismatic and handsome humanitarian, “Mr Fix It” — Sergio Viera de Mello — in Greg Barker’s directorial Sergio. The film, which has Moura attached as a producer as well, premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January and was eventually picked up by Netflix.
Barker had earlier made a 2009 documentary based on Samantha Power’s biography, Sergio: One Man’s Fight to Save the World. With this feature, he delves into de Mello’s life again, in this extension of his doc, choosing to highlight certain parts of the diplomat’s illustrious life.
The film opens to de Mello, then the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, known to most as just Sergio, delivering a brief speech to a camera for an onboarding video for new staffers. The scene immediately transitions to 2003’s deadly explosion at Baghdad’s Canal Hotel that housed the UN’s Iraq headquarters, where de Mello was trapped under the rubble and eventually passes away. The attack, ordered by al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed 22 lives and injured at least 100.
The narrative then goes back-and-forth between de Mello last hours when he is discovered among the debris by two American soldiers (Garrett Dillahunt and Will Dalton), and flashbacks of his passionate romance with Argentinian economist Caroline Larriera (Ana de Armas) and how he came to be stationed in Iraq.
Sergio is an ideal pick for one of those lazy evenings when you have exhausted all your options or just cannot seem to find something decent to stream online. Sergio has a love story alongside the central character’s idealism and bravery magnified tenfold in a way only a Hollywood film can. Coming from a documentarian behind Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden (2013) and The Final Year (2017), the biographical drama is insightful and almost factually correct, but definitely not ideal for educational viewing.
Dallas Buyers Club co-writer Craig Borten’s screenplay refrains from a deeper excavation of de Mello’s peacekeeping efforts and dealings with geopolitical issues or even his interaction with US envoy to Iraq Paul Bremer (Bradley Whitford). The story avoids a glimpse into the tension and inner turmoil may have experienced in his high-tension profession or even his ultimate thoughts before he breathed his last. The focus here is more on de Mello’s instant attraction to Larriera during his time in East Timor (where he is negotiating a ceasefire between the rebels and the Indonesian government) and their consequent relationship. I have no complaints from Moura and de Armas’ — both beautiful, lithe and tanned — great onscreen chemistry.
The flashbacks also take the audience through his distant relationship with his two sons, Laurent and Adrien, bringing to the realisation that despite mediating through tension riddled lands, he did little to save his personal relationships.
Borten and Barker have taken some creative liberties, especially in the portrayal of Gil Loescher (Brian F O’Bryne), seen here as de Mello’s right-hand man and voice of reason. "Gil, you are my conscience," says Moura's de Mello as Loescher expresses disapproval of his boss' association with guerrilla army leaders and war criminals. As the makers explain in the sequence leading to the end credits, this character was inspired by several members of the slain diplomat’s A team. Towards the very end, de Mello’s parting words to his bodyguard Gaby Pichon (Clements Schick) and then to Larriera seem a little to stretched out and become tiresome, losing some of the emotional blow that the makers were going for.
There have been worst attempts at immortalising a person’s life onscreen and Sergio does a somewhat passable job.
Sergio is now streaming on Netflix.
Watch the trailer here
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