The following is a review of Sergio — Directed by Greg Barker.
Greg Barker’s Sergio is a biographical drama about Sérgio Vieira de Mello’s career as a United Nations diplomat and peace activist. The seasoned Brazilian humanitarian lost his life in a terrorist attack in Baghdad in 2003, and this film takes us back to his final moments. The straight-to-Netflix true story is based on both the 2009 documentary of the same name, which was also directed by Greg Barker, and Samantha Powers’ biography Sergio: One Man’s Fight to Save the World. Since Barker directed an award-winning documentary about the aforementioned diplomat, it is not exactly a surprise to see that he has now made a narrative feature film about the same non-fictional subject-matter. What is, however, quite interesting is that Greg Barker has made a film where a love story is at the heart of it.
Barker’s film is structured curiously with a ruminative narrative framing device. The film continues to jump back and forth from various moments in the diplomat’s past to short scenes with the titular diplomat lying on his back in the rubble following the aforementioned terrorist attack. Greg Barker’s Sergio may be curiously structured, but it is done with purpose. Barker has made a moving picture of a passionate and idealistic man seeing his life flash before his eyes. Because of this choice, it almost feels oddly fitting that the politics, which should be of paramount importance in a regular film about a diplomat, or ‘a great man,’ eventually evaporates and fades away in favor of the film’s depiction of Sérgio Vieira de Mello’s relationship with his girlfriend Carolina Larriera (played by Ana de Armas). After all, it does make sense that you would focus on those you love when you ruminate on your life when you are in immediate danger, but perhaps the romance subplot shouldn’t be the primary focus of this kind of film.
It does help the film tremendously that the very best thing about the film is the chemistry shared between the actors that play Sergio and Carolina. Brazilian-born actor Wagner Moura (Netflix’s Narcos) gives a solid performance as the titular diplomat. Barker’s interest in Vieira de Mello’s relationship with his girlfriend is only understandable since she has been brought to life by Ana de Armas who has successfully cast a spell over the titular character and given a thoroughly magnetic performance. Her performance is another clear sign that Ana de Armas is a star in the making.
As entertaining and captivating as the romance is, it isn’t enough to make the film all that memorable. Barker and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club) struggle to hold your attention with its scenes showcasing the titular diplomat doing his job. These scenes are often sluggish and unexciting, and the story is not properly balanced between Vieira de Mello’s love of humanitarianism and his love of Caroline Larriera. Although I contend that there is a method to the madness, I can’t escape the feeling that it is odd that Barker and Borten let politics fall into the background here since this film is based on a biography with the subtitle: “One Man’s Fight to Save the World.”
Greg Barker has made a somewhat melodramatic but warm-hearted companion piece to his own documentary, which I, admittedly, have not seen. Barker captures the titular Brazilian diplomat well and shows a lot of affection for him and Carolina Larriera. Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas keep the film afloat even though this ‘great man’ biographical drama fails to zone in on the diplomat’s career and make it engrossing. Greg Barker’s Sergio is a warm but sad film about a beloved diplomat and the woman he loved at the very end, but the political career is not as gripping as it definitely should be.
6.5 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.