2020 | rated R | starring Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz, Wagner Moura, Ana De Armas | directed by Olivier Assayas | 2 hrs 7 mins |
Director Olivier Assayas’ 2nd movie in as many years, Wasp Network is a bit of a return to his roots for the director of Carlos. If Assayas looked like he was retreating from mainstream acceptance after Personal Shopper with the terrifically minimalistic Non-Fiction, he finds a bland middle ground with Wasp. While it looks like a revolutionist thriller, from a story perspective it’s far more Zodiac than Argo with Assayas more concerned with a working through the procedural outline of the events, names and dates than reshaping them into a probing story.
Wasp Network follows two exiles from Castro’s Cuba in the late 80s/early 90s: Rene (Edgar Ramirez, Carlos) who flees the island by plane, leaving his wife Olga (Penelope Cruz) and daughter behind, and Juan Pablo (Wagner Moura) who swims to Guantanamo Bay and whose movie-star looks quickly win him the heart of an American, Ana (Ana De Armas). Both men then fall in with a secret spy organization known as the Wasp Network, a group that seeks to infiltrate terrorist revolutionaries in Cuba and uses drug running between nations to do it.
I’m a fan of Assayas. One of the things he always does well is immersing us into the world of the film. The sequences in communist Cuba are thoroughly recreated. Some of the film’s characters blame Cuba’s “lacking” on communism, others Castro’s dictatorship and the film itself on the American embargo justifying Cuban interference as the most spying country in the world gets spied on. Without putting to fine a point on it, or splitting the film into chapters, Wasp is structured in a series of vignettes. Rene and Olga’s bureaucratic quest to be reunited, Assayas’ Godfather section where Ana learns what Juan Pablo does for a living and they get married and – most riveting – a young revolutionary who falls in with the terrorists and winds up in a city-wide bomb plot.
As well made, and well acted as it is, it’s also cold and disconnected. It’s concerned about the characters romantic relationships through the prism of a historical docu-drama, sometimes immediately cutting away from their stories never to be seen again. It presents us with the political debate of the US/Cuba embargo with little meaty dialog to chew on. The movie wants to recreate the events, just the facts, but doesn’t let human themes and thoughts bubble up for us to ponder.
There is most certainly a place for this kind of docu-drama filmmaking, many great movies have come from it. I’m a fan of cold procedurals, but Wasp Network feels a bit more like Assayas going through the mechanical motions. It’s deliberately disjointing style actually makes the plot more convoluted than it needs to be and doesn’t serve the history lesson. It didn’t land as well for me, but it might for others.