A fact-based romantic tragedy bolstered by strong leading performances, even if it less insightful than its documentary predecessor.
This review of Sergio (Netflix) is spoiler-free.
Sergio (Netflix) is the second film of that title to chronicle the life and exploits of UN diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello – both are by documentarian Greg Barker. But while the same-named 2009 effort was purely non-fiction, the fact-based but nonetheless narrative-driven version that arrived on Netflix today is a work of drama, romance and tragedy, and a mostly admirable example of all three bolstered by strong leading performances.
The film’s script from Craig Borten is a clever one and is never content to settle in one place or time period for too long, even if its caroming back and forth can be a bit unedifying at times. In 2003 Sérgio (Wagner Moura) arrives in Iraq having been appointed as special representative of the UN secretary-general, tasked with convincing the citizenry that foreign occupation would lead to freedom from the kind of terror attack that subsequently levels a good chunk of the UN headquarters and leaves Sérgio buried in the debris. But the narrative is also concerned with his work elsewhere, such as East Timor, and especially his romance with co-worker Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas, suddenly a very hot property following Knives Out.)
It’s on the shoulders of Moura and de Armas that Sergio mostly rests, and they’re both capable of handling the weight. The film burns their ample chemistry for fuel, but their individual charisma is also noteworthy. It’s difficult to keep one’s eyes off de Armas at the best of times, but here she’s as attractive a figure to the audience as she is to Sérgio for all the right, substantive reasons. Moura’s authoritative gravitas is central to our understanding of his highly-regarded diplomatic work, even if it’s less of a focus here in favor of a romance that is leaned against particularly heavily in the emotional closing act.
In the sense that this Sergio works best as a story of the heart rather than the head, it’s most suited to being taken as one half of a more complete picture; together with the documentary version, it helps to paint a rounded picture of a life lived enthusiastically and cut tragically short. Most viewers will strongly prefer one or the other, but both have value.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.