In the picture

Biographical drama Sergio doesn’t do justice to its fascinating subject.


Staring: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Garret Dillahunt, Clemens Schick, Will Dalton, Bradley Whitford, and Brían F. O'Byrne

Direction: Greg Barker

Tagline: In a world of conflict, he risked everything for peace.

A decade ago, director Greg Barker made a critically praised documentary on the story of United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello. He now looks at the same subject through a more dramatized lens in Sergio, a biographical film that attempts to capture the complex personal and professional passions of the Brazilian peacemaker but fails to do justice to the life, work, and legacy of a fascinating man.

Centered on the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing that targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, the movie finds the protagonist (portrayed by a terrific Wagner Moura) trapped under rubble, struggling for survival while looking back on his life.

The non-linear narrative touches upon various moments and encounters from his past. We get glimpses at his relationship with his family and co-workers and his experiences on prior missions. But the film’s primary thread revolves around the love affair of the married Sergio and his economist girlfriend Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas). It’s this decision to anchor the narrative in romance that works to the project’s detriment. The unwarranted focus on the newfound relationship serves as a distraction from what could otherwise have been a vital, intriguing study of global politics and diplomacy.

The importance given to his lover not only makes the film unnecessarily drawn-out and dull, but also keeps us from getting a better sense of the efforts and ideals of the courageous man who was celebrated for his work, not his love life.

The non-linear narrative – a device that, on paper, seems apt for the story – is also ineffective in practice. Barker, who must clearly be knowledgeable about the topics he is tackling, doesn’t seem to realize that the humanitarian and political aspects are the more intriguing parts here, and thereby doesn’t find the right balance, failing to highlight the more interesting elements of Sergio’s tale and going on and on instead about points that could easily have been slimmed down or left out altogether.

What really helps the film though is Wagner’s excellent performance. The actor is perfectly cast and effortlessly charismatic in the lead role. Armas, on the other hand, is bland for much of her appearance, although her performance is somewhat better in the more emotional moments towards the end.

Sergio could have been far more effective if its structure and focus had been better handled. Sergio De Mello’s story is important and compelling, and it needs to be told in a different, more impactful way. It is ultimately disappointing to see such an inspiring real-life figure get such an uninspired epitaph.

Rating system:  ★Not on your life ★ ½ If you really must waste your time ★★ Hardly worth the bother ★★ ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
★★★ Good enough for a look see ★★★ ½ Recommended viewing ★★★★ Don’t miss it ★★★★ ½ Almost perfect ★★★★★ Perfection

Biographical drama Sergio doesn’t do justice to its fascinating subject.