Directed by: Greg Barker
Written by: Craig Borten
Starring: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Garret Dillahunt, Clemens Schick, Will Dalton
Coming to a compromise between warring nations cannot possibly be classified as an easy job, as it takes someone who can navigate multiple languages, cultures, and ideologies to find a solution. Some of these bouts have gone back decades while some are too fresh. It takes the work of a special person to complete, which Sergio attempts to highlight.
Known for being a fixer of international relations, Sérgio Vieira de Mello (Wagner Moura) navigated East Timor’s independence from Indonesia, and other hotly contested situations. Given one last task, before he decides to call it quits, he’s sent to help with the transition of Iraq after the removal of Saddam Hussain.
For all of the issues biopics have with their uniformity, I feel that they serve as a nice education into someone’s life and the accomplishments that warranted them getting a feature film. As someone who was six years old during 9/11, I had no context for all of the political machinations at play, especially when the United States invaded Iraq. Detailing the life of someone like Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who sought peace over anything else should be celebrated. As the film shows, his methods differed from the more aggressive approaches utilized by bloodthirsty leaders. Unfortunately, the editing and storytelling mechanism utilized did this man’s story a disservice.
The narrative structure of Sergio feels like it jumps to seven different points in his life, but not done so in chronological order. Now, I appreciate a non-linear narrative as much as the next person, but the way it was done in this film took away any drama the story could have possessed and left me confused. It begins with Sérgio arriving in Iraq to enter the UN Headquarters and it then jumps to the future, his time in East Timor, on a beach in Brazil, and other times of his life without any real order. The intention must have been to emphasize certain moments and build the ethos of what makes this guy special, but it simply became nonsensical after a while that one scene would cut to another. It felt like they filmed everything and the editor just pieced it together in an order that they felt would have the most emotional resonance, but the attempt did not have the desired effect. Instead, you have a moment where Sérgio speaks to a colleague, only to cut back to a moment in their past and then cut back. The editing was questionable at best.
It’s a shame because I loved the performance in the film. First, the biggest shock came from seeing Wagner Moura as such a nice, calm, and reserved man. With my only experience of watching him being his work as Pablo Escobar in Narcos, this shift was nice to see. He embodies the spirit of this peaceful man that certainly had his flaws but believed his work at the United Nations made a difference in the world. He believed it so much that he turned down the opportunity for a happily ever after to achieve it. Additionally, Ana de Armas, as UN economic justice adviser Carolina Larriera, also did a great job. Her star continues to shine brighter with each new film she takes on and she did so much in a more limited role. She brought a vibrancy to the picture that grounded Sérgio when the film got to the point of deifying him in certain moments.
For the nearly 2-hour runtime this film had, I was surprised just how shallow it ended up being. The film makes it obvious that Sérgio cared about the work, even when he had to help petty politicians put down their swords and talk. Even in the big heroic moments of his career, the solutions seemed far too simplistic, which the film does point out it tends to be the case with Sérgio. Even if they mention this feature about him, I find it hard to believe that decade-long disputes came to an end in a short conversation. Instead of jumping around to all of those different moments of his life, revealing his style of peace-building would have said more about his character.
Even its two great performers could not fully lift this film from mediocrity. It had good content within it, but it tried too hard to stretch these small moments into a feature film when more could have been explored. Sérgio Vieira de Mello appears to have been a great diplomatic worker who cared about the lives of others more than himself, and his biopic did not fully do him justice.