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film review

Director Greg Barker traces UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello's story from his days attempting to broker an uneasy peace in East Timor to his tumultuous stint in Iraq, circa 2003.Netflix

  • Sergio
  • Directed by Greg Barker
  • Written by Craig Borten
  • Starring Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas and Bradley Whitford
  • Classification R; 118 minutes

Rating:

2 out of 4 stars

The documentary-to-feature-film model isn’t exactly a new one – a good true story can make a great lightly fictionalized true story. But aside from madman Werner Herzog, who turned his doc Little Dieter Needs to Fly into the Christian Bale-starring Rescue Dawn, few documentarians have decided to make two versions of their own work. Maybe there’s a good reason, as Greg Barker’s biographical drama Sergio proves.

A feature adaptation of Barker’s 2009 doc – also, for extra confusing fun, titled Sergio – the director’s new, more expensive telling of United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello’s career is a splashier, sometimes ridiculously sexier version of his original production. But that doesn’t make it close to essential.

Working off Craig Borten’s slow and shoddily constructed script – the film’s framing device involves so many repetitive flashbacks to an ocean oasis that you might feel fortunate to be socially distanced indoors right now – Barker traces Sergio’s story from his days attempting to broker an uneasy peace in East Timor to his tumultuous stint in Iraq, circa 2003.

Moura does what he can as the sturdy Sergio, and the actor has strong chemistry with a love interest played by Ana de Armas.Netflix

Mostly, the film is a portrait of an idealist fighting for justice in a bureaucratic world that has no patience for anything of the sort. Which is fine and admirable, were Barker and Borten not so intent on turning Sergio – no one calls him by anything else here – into a saint. And a rather static, boring one and that.

Wagner Moura (Narcos’s Pablo Escobar himself) does what he can as the sturdy Sergio, and the actor has strong, near-instant chemistry with a love interest played by Ana de Armas. (Casting agents have obviously taken note, as the two also co-star in Olivier Assayas’s yet-to-be-released 2019 political drama Wasp Network.) But the pair are saddled with clunky dialogue (“some times, change starts small”), an ultimately hacky narrative construction, and one extended love scene that sparked a traumatic memory of the rightly forgotten 1994 Sylvester Stallone-Sharone Stone vehicle The Specialist (look it up, if you dare).

Sergio Vieira de Mello spent his life fighting the good fight – but Barker should have called it a draw a decade ago.

Sergio is available to stream on Netflix starting April 17

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