Sergio, which dropped on Netflix last Friday, is a biopic of the Brazilian diplomat, Sérgio Vieira de Mello. Sergio spent 34 years as a diplomat with the United Nations, going to some of the most dangerous places in the world and trying to negotiate with people who were determined to kill one another. Sergio was so respected within the UN that he was seen as a likely candidate for Secretary-General. Instead, in 2003, Sergio was killed in a terrorist attack while he was in Baghdad, observing the American occupation of Iraq.
Starring Wagner Moura in the title role, Sergio opens with Sergio arriving in Baghdad. For the majority of the film, he’s buried in the rubble of his blown-up office, thinking about his past life while an American soldier (played, with quiet authority, by Garret Dillahunt) tries to dig him and his assistant, Gil (Brian F. O’Byrne) out. Through the use of flashbacks, we watch as Sergio negotiates peace in East Timor and argues against the occupation of the Iraq. We also watch as he meets and falls in love with Carolina (Ana de Armas), pursuing a passionate affair with her despite being married.
Sergio is a rather staid biopic. If you’re expecting to see an Adam McKay-style screed about international diplomacy and American war crimes, that is not what this film is and we should be happy for that because, seriously, have you tried to watch The Big Short or Vice lately? Instead, Sergio is more like a Jay Roach film without the attempts at humor. It’s a blandly liberal biopic that is conventionally structured and a bit too convinced that the audience is going to automatically agree with its points. Indeed, one of the film’s most glaring flaws is that it assumes that we’re all as enamored with the UN as it is. Instead of making a case for why the UN should be taken seriously, Sergio just assumes that it is.
The other big problem with the film is that it’s just boring. There’s nothing interesting about the film’s structure and, as portrayed in the rather bland script, both Sergio and Carolina come across as being ciphers. We’re constantly told that Sergio is charismatic and controversial but we really don’t see much evidence of it. The film itself doesn’t seem to know what made Sergio tick but what’s even worse is that it doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in finding out. There’s not much interest in digging into Sergio’s mind or his motives, The film forgets that you can portray someone as a hero and celebrate their accomplishments without necessarily idealizing them. With the exception of one or two scenes (and there is an effective moment where one of Sergio’s assistants does call him out for putting everyone’s life in danger by refusing to accept protection from the U.S. army), Sergio is portrayed in such an idealized that he comes across as being a bit dull. Wagner Moura is an appealing actor but there’s no depth to his performance. Meanwhile, Ana de Armas is reduced to playing the stock girlfriend with a social conscience role.
All that said, I almost feel guilty about not liking Sergio. The film was made with good intentions but good intentions don’t necessarily translate to compelling storytelling.