When I first heard about the new Netflix movie “Sergio,” which dropped on the service Friday, Apr. 17, all I could think of is the kindly old tailor I did business with over a decade ago in Nora. He was a little fella of Italian or Hispanic descent who also sported the moniker. I brought a suit into him that I needed taken in. He advised me not to do it as he couldn’t take it out afterwards. He must have deduced that I’m a dude who likes to eat like crap and drink too much or my reputation proceeded me. The suit no longer fits. Anyways, I was telling my then-girlfriend-now-wife about Sergio and in imitating him I definitely did a Mario voice (“It’s-a me, Sergio!”). Sergio’s come up now and again over the years and Mario voices were always trotted out while doing so. When I asked Jamie if she wanted to watch “Sergio” with me I did so with a Mario emphasis on the title. We’ve both probably said Sergio in a Mario impersonation at least 20 times in the past few days. Yay, quarantine!
Anyways, onto the business at hand … “Sergio” is a docudrama concerning United Nations diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello (Wagner Moura), his work alongside Gil Loescher (gifted Irish stage and film actor Brían F. O’Byrne, playing an amalgamation of various folks under the real-life Loescher’s name), his budding romance with fellow UN worker, Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas), his strife with George W. Bush crony Paul Bremer (an unrecognizable Bradley Whitford) and his struggle for survival after a bomb blast in Baghdad, Iraq leaves him gravely injured and stuck beneath rubble.
Documentarian Greg Barker makes a transition to features with “Sergio” after having made a documentary about the same subject with the same title back in 2009. I won’t lie. I didn’t know much about de Mello going into the movie. I left the movie with a great respect for the man. He isn’t perfect and isn’t portrayed as such. He doesn’t appear to have been a great husband. He is a loving father, but is often too preoccupied with his admittedly very important job to do the legwork needed to fully be there for his two sons. Sergio as presented here is an eternal optimist, a fighter, a peace broker, a romantic. “Sergio” presents the case that things would have worked out very differently in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole had situations transpired another way back in 2003. We could use a lot more folks like de Mello right now.
I haven’t seen Moura’s work on “Narcos,” but have heard positive things about it and the show as a whole. I’m more familiar with him from José Padilha’s Brazilian “Elite Squad” flicks, which he’s very good in. He’s excels here too. Moura was much beefier and more foreboding in the “Elite Squad” pictures. Here he’s slighter, handsomer, distinguished … probably in an effort to embody the actual de Mello. Full disclosure: I watched “Sergio” primarily because de Armas is in it. After her stellar performances in “Blade Runner 2049” and “Knives Out,” I’d pay to watch de Armas read the phone book. Hell, I’d watch de Armas do anything as she’s de Armas. She may have actually been too attractive here. There were times when I distractedly got lost in those pretty green eyes of hers. That said, she does great work in “Sergio” and may have been perfect casting because as a buddy of mine has said (My buddy said this! Not me!), “She’d be harder to pull out of than Iraq.” You’re a lucky man, Ben Affleck! O’Byrne is reliably solid as per usual. Whitford’s a bit of a distraction as he kinda looks like he’s ready to play Bremer on a “Saturday Night Live” skit from the early aughts, but he embodies the part. Gifted character actor Garret Dillahunt – a performer so solid he played TWO roles on “Deadwood” – is sort of wasted playing de Mello and Loescher’s primary rescuer, Army Reservist and firefighter Msg. Bill von Zehle. Dillahunt’s mostly relegated to shouting things such as, “Water! Now! Dammit!” He does get a moment to shine doing some emotive physical acting opposite de Armas late in the picture.
“Sergio” is told out of sequence and it’s a tad disorienting in the early goings, but once you get in a groove with it the structure does pay emotional dividends. Sergio cribs a quote from an East Timor villager he visits with late in the film, “I want to fall from the sky like rain and remain forever in the place that I belong.” Nonlinear or no, I think this is a sentiment that strikes a chord with all of us these days.