February 6, 2020

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “Sergio” & “Lost Girls”


SERGIO (Netflix – April 17):  Greg Barker’s film has an unusual pedigree.  Barker, up to this point a documentarian, directed a nonfiction version of the same story (and with the same title) in 2009, but decided that he wanted to explore the life of UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello further in a way that required a scripted narrative and actors.  The result, written by Craig Borten (a writer of Dallas Buyers Club), tells a worthy story, but not in a particularly distinctive way.  The script intercuts between several timelines of de Mello’s (Wagner Moura) life, mostly his final days in Iraq before being killed in an ISIS bombing and the time he spent in East Timor ending a conflict between warring factions and meeting the love of his life, the economist Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas).  Moura is charismatic in the lead, and he and de Armas strike the proper sparks off one another, but there’s a breath of hagiography in the way Sergio is constantly depicted as being one step ahead of the shortsighted and/or cravenly politicians in his way, personified in Iraq by US official Paul Bremer (Bradley Whitford).  All of this may be perfectly true to life, which isn’t the same as being the stuff of memorable drama, and the climactic sequences, as Sergio, buried under rubble, and Carolina have their precious final moments together, have the feel of many doomed Hollywood romances that have come before.  Considering that this is Barker’s first work with staged sequences and actors, his work is fluid and well-visualized, if lacking in imagination.  Sergio is a reasonable film biography that may find it difficult to climb out of Netflix’s glut of content.

LOST GIRLS (Netflix – March 13): Another documentarian venturing into scripted moviemaking with a story based on real life (and again distributed by Netflix), but Liz Garbus’s film, written by Michael Werwie, is more ambitious as drama.  The story revolves around the serial killings of sex workers in Long Island, and it’s told from a striking angle, the point of view character being Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan), the mother of one of the victims.  Lost Girls has more to do with David Fincher’s Zodiac than with a more conventional procedural like Netflix’s recent Unbelievable.  It’s about futility, not justice, as Gilbert and fellow relatives of victims struggle to push the local Suffolk County police (with representatives played by Gabriel Byrne and Dean Winters) first even to admit that the murders had taken place and were connected, and then to investigate them with full effort.  Ryan is fierce and heartbreaking as Gilbert, and Garbus has gathered a strong supporting cast that includes Thomasin McKenzie as another of Gilbert’s daughters, Lola Kirke and Miriam Shor as other survivors, and Reed Birney as a leading suspect in the killings.  Garbus has also worked with cinematographer Igor Martinovic and production designer Lisa Myers to create a gray, inhospitable world for the story that fits the viewpoint of the drama.  The odd thing about Lost Girls is that it’s the unusual film that, at only 95 minutes, feels like it could have usefully been longer.  Characters don’t get the depth they seem to deserve (when a title card at the end tells us Gilbert’s fate, it comes as a shock), and events sometimes jump forward without proper preparation.  Despite its ellipses, though, Lost Girls sticks disturbingly in the mind.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."