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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Greg Barker
scr Craig Borten
prd Brent Travers, Daniel Dreifuss, Wagner Moura
with Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Brian F O'Byrne, Bradley Whitford, Garret Dillahunt, Clemens Schick, Will Dalton, Pedro Hossi, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Clarisse Abujamra, Eduardo Melo, Joao Barreto
release US/UK 17.Apr.20
20/US Netflix 1h58
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
With his first dramatic feature, documentarian Greg Barker blends real news footage with a gritty true story featuring a superb international cast. A biopic about noted Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, the film focusses on riveting, complex situations he navigated in Iraq and Indonesia. The film is skilfully edited by Claudia Castello to tell the story in a fragmented way that builds gripping momentum and highlights deeper issues.
United Nations human rights commissioner Sergio (Moura) and his economist partner Carolina (Armas) move to Baghdad shortly after the 2003 American invasion. Sergio and team members Gil and Gaby (O'Byrne and Schick) are working for the Iraqi people, seeking a peaceful transition to self-rule, although dismissive American envoy Paul Bremer (Whitford) thinks the UN works for him. Instead of building democracy, Paul wants to reopen Abu Ghraib Prison to torture prisoners for information. But Sergio has experience in taking on delicate negotiations, notably in East Timor three years earlier.
Shot in striking locations, the film looks bracingly realistic, framing Sergio's story with the aftermath of a UN headquarters bomb attack. Sergio is trapped under debris as rescuer Bill (Dillahunt) tries to free him, sparking flashbacks to his previous months on the job, his life in Brazil, and his time in East Timor, where he met Carolina. Never distracting, this structure adds strong urgency to the narrative, allowing the audience to connect Sergio's personal and professional lives in resonant ways.
Moura beautifully plays Sergio as a compassionate, principled man who knows that doing the right thing will jeopardise his career. He also stirs earthy humour into the role, even in darker moments, making him both engaging and inspirational. And he has terrific chemistry with Armas, who plays Carolina with a strong mix of warmth and steely intelligence. What makes Sergio and Carolina, and all the other characters, so compelling is a sense of their vulnerability. An almost unrecognisable Whitford even manages to give the hawkish Paul some subtext.
Because of its documentary integrity, the film never feels like an attack on US military aggression, remaining focussed on facts and personal interaction. Borten's sharply crafted script explores Sergio's patient, observational approach to each situation, highlighting the political complexities while also exploring some deeply personal aspects of Sergio's connections with his loved ones, including a sweet-sexy depiction of his courtship with Carolina. This approach makes the bigger themes linger even more pungently, gently encouraging us to see the world through more humane eyes.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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