DIRECTED BY: Greg Barker
STARRING: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Brían F. O’Byrne, Garret Dillahunt, Will Dalton, Clemens Schick and Bradley Whitford
A sweeping drama set in the chaotic aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, where the life of top UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello hangs in the balance during the most treacherous mission of his career.
Sergio Vieira de Mello has spent the majority of his storied career as a top UN diplomat working in the world’s most unstable regions, deftly navigating deals with presidents, revolutionaries, and war criminals for the sake of protecting the lives of ordinary people. But just as he readies himself for a simpler life with the woman he loves, Sergio takes one last assignment – in Baghdad, newly plunged into chaos following the US invasion.
Sergio is a biographical drama that focuses on Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro that was a United Nations diplomat for over thirty years, earning praise and respect around the world for his efforts in UN humanitarian and political programs. As Sergio prepares himself for life after his work by spending time with the woman he loves, Carolina Larriera, until he’s tasked with one more assignment…to go to Baghdad following the invasion from the US. The assignment is meant to be brief, until a bomb blast causes the UN headquarters to come crashing down upon Sergio, setting into motion a gripping life-or-death struggle.
The film is directed by Greg Barker, a former freelance journalist and war correspondent turned filmmaker, who has previous experience in showcasing the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello as he produced and directed the 2009 documentary that was also called Sergio. While the film goes out to highlight some of Sergio’s achievements, particularly that of his time working as a Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in East Timor, it also looks into the complexities of his personal life, from his relationship with Carolina Larriera to his two sons Laurent and Adrien, particularly with how he was mainly absent for the latter. Wagner Moura made a name for himself internationally for his portrayal of Pablo Escobar in the Netflix series Narcos and here I thoroughly enjoyed watching his portrayal of Sergio Vieira de Mello, he has a commanding and charming presence onscreen. Ana de Armas has an equally commanding presence as Carolina Larriera, an economist who also worked for the United Nations. The pairs chemistry sizzles onscreen and their romance takes up a good portion of the films two-hour runtime. The direction from Barker is solid enough, considering its his first feature that’s not a documentary (though this is a docudrama).
The problem the film has however comes down to the screenplay from Dallas Buyers Club and The 33 screenwriter Craig Borten. The film takes a narrative structure approach that’s odd at first as we go jump through several timelines, kinda touch into Sergio’s personal life but only get cliff notes of it as the film focuses more on the romance and his time in Baghdad and in the process we don’t really get the full depth of Sergio’s life. Not only that, but the story structure just doesn’t work for this film so when it goes for the emotional punch in the final act, it just doesn’t have the effect that it should have. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m assuming Barker’s documentary a decade earlier covered Sergio’s life better.
While the story structure for this biopic about Sergio Vieira de Mello is ineffective, The performances and chemistry between Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas will keep you engaged.