Sergio is yet another film in the platform’s catalog attempting to retell the story of a real person. I was ignorant to the work of Sérgio Vieira de Mello as a UN diplomat protecting human rights around the world, and completely unaware that he was killed in a bombing on UN headquarters, in Baghdad, nearly twenty years ago. Before my screening of the movie, I was excited to learn more about a time in history I was actually alive to see (although, certainly too young to understand), and was hoping to gain a little more insight into the political situation in those early years after 9/11, while also learning about Sergio’s groundbreaking achievements in diplomacy. But much like Lost Girls, distributed by Netflix last month, Sergio falls short in its goal to do the real people of the story any kind of justice. I found myself asking, yet again, why this had to be a feature film instead of a documentary, which would certainly have been both more informative and impactful.
Sergio stars Wagner Moura as Sergio, famous for his role as Pablo Escobar on Netflix’s show Narcos, and Ana de Armas as his girlfriend and colleague Carolina, who many viewers might recognize as the lead in last year’s Knives Out. There are also a few supporting roles, notably Sergio’s advisor Gil (Brian F. O’Byrne), and an American soldier attempting to rescue Sergio after the bombing, William Von Zehle (Garret Dillahunt). The performances are the most reliable thing about the film, with each actor giving their best to hold up what is an otherwise weak script with a disjointed timeline.
The film is non-linear, constantly switching between moments of Sergio before the Baghdad bombing, under the rubble after the bombing, his previous endeavors as a diplomat in Cambodia and East Timor, and his relationship with his son’s back in Brazil. The connecting thread between all of these stories is Carolina; they meet in East Timor, where she is working (maybe with the UN, although this detail is glossed over in the movie) to restore the economy of a region decimated by civil war. They, of course, quickly fall in love, which leads to scene after scene of Sergio and Carolina in a room, or outside, or in bed, talking about his work and their relationship. The script seems to only be comfortable with this type of scene and forgoes any attempt to actually show the impact of Sergio’s diplomacy in favor of just telling the audience about it. As a result, it’s difficult to figure out what Sergio was actually doing in any of these locations.
The direction doesn’t do much to help either, between fast cuts and bland, uninspired shot compositions. There are a few moments where an attempt is made to explain who a character is by introducing a subtitle in the middle of a scene, like a documentary. This is an effective way to learn about Paul Bremer (Bradley Whitford), the US Envoy who disagrees with Sergio’s methods in Iraq. Unfortunately, this kind of on-the-fly, documentarian approach is dropped right away, with the director instead leading us down into a melodramatic, manufactured romance devoid of substance or tension. Most of the film focuses on Sergio and Carolina’s relationship, which is frustrating, since it almost dilutes the impact of the real man to the casual audience member.
Sergio doesn’t have much to say, and it shows. Instead of telling a story about the real man, a hero of human rights and icon of diplomacy, the film gives us boring, tension-free romance, and one completely, unnecessarily erotic sex scene for no reason other than to keep our attention a little bit longer. This film is a classic example of having a compelling true story to tell, but not enough drive or passion to tell it properly.