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Film Review: Sergio

21 April 20 words: George White

The life of Sergio Sérgio Vieira de Mello was pretty incredible. This film about his life, however, is certainly not... 

Director: Greg Barker
Starring: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Brían F. O'Byrne
Running time: 118 minutes

Sergio follows revolutionary United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello (Wagner Moura) in his final years, as he aims to bring peace to the nation of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The story of Mello’s life is an extraordinary one, his influence as a leading UN figure helping to end the decades-long conflict in East Timor shortly before the outbreak of the Iraq war. 

Rather than focusing on his phenomenal political work, though, Sergio chooses to spend the majority of its time telling the story of his relationship with economist Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas). Instead of truly serving the incredible role of this international icon, the film tells an unoriginal tale of star-crossed lovers, opting to tread overly-familiar narrative beats over exploring Mello’s unique influence on monumental developments in international relations. 

The film works best as a political thriller; the few moments underpinned by drama are by far the most memorable, with certain scenes channeling the intensity of more interesting movies like Blood Diamond. Sequences such as Mello’s cagey interaction with the leader of the resistance in East Timor are genuinely interesting, and are delivered with an effective air of unpredictability that highlights the high stakes that he would have experienced in his everyday life. One mistake could cause deaths, and the film emphasises this relatively well.

The filmmakers were given an interesting story to tell and failed to make it count

However, these moments are far too rare to keep the audience entertained, the film instead deciding to embrace romantic cliches in an attempt to increase the pay-off of the final act. It is when the movie decides to follow Mello and Larrieria on their amorous adventures, or spend an inexplicable amount of time watching the pair swimming around playfully in the ocean, that it loses its bite. 

The scenarios on screen have been shown in countless films in the past, leaving the audience frustrated at Sergio’s willingness to brush over major historical events to focus more on a relationship which offers little in the way of original appeal. The film, which has an unnecessary two-hour runtime, presents too many opportunities for the viewer to drift off, failing to keep them engaged as they prioritise conventional romantic beats over genuine narrative substance. 

Armas and Moura do their best to generate some semblance of chemistry between the characters and put in respectable performances throughout. Moura underpins his charmingly self-assured performance with enough vulnerability to make the character feel human, fleshing out his portrayal to avoid feeling like a caricature. And Armas continues to prove that she is one of the most talented actors around, managing to make her mark despite being sidelined as little more than a convenient plot device. 

Despite these performances, though, it is difficult to feel anything but disappointment towards Sergio. The filmmakers were given an original, interesting story to tell and failed to make it count. Narrative missteps make this film feel a bit of drag, failing to encapsulate the audience throughout it’s overly bloated runtime. Do we recommend you check this out during lockdown? Sergi-no, we don’t (sorry, it had to be done).

Did you know? Many lines are composites taken from real life quotes, and some can be seen in Barker's 2009 documentary of the same name.

Sergio is now available on Netflix 

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