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Film Review:
Wasp Network

Workaholic French writer/director Olivier Assayas’ mighty factual epic is too overstuffed with plot and character to come together as a whole, but many of its individual elements are impressive – and even spectacular.

Assayas (he of the recent Clouds Of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper, both with Kristen Stewart) adapted Fernando Morais’ book here, and the multilingual result encompasses so many complicated events that it might have worked better as a miniseries, which would have allowed the ethnically diverse star cast more room to breathe.

Taking a sympathetic view of Cuba (something sure to annoy Americans, which is surely why it’s a French/Brazilian/Spanish/Belgian co-production), this opens in Havana back in 1990 and introduces René Gonzalez (Edgar Ramírez), a pilot for tourist sky divers whom we see leaving for work one morning and saying goodbye to his wife Olga (Penélope Cruz) and young daughter Irma. He then, without warning, defects to Miami, where he speaks up about the plight of ordinary Cubans and starts working for a semi-covert organisation that patrols the waters between Cuba and Florida, assisting the Coast Guard and sometimes dropping supplies to rafts full of defectors. And yes, we could use a few like him in this country.

René eventually meets another Cuban defector, Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura), a man who literally swam to the shark-infested waters of Guantanamo Bay and nearly got himself shot for his troubles. A Cuban movie star, Juan is a shadier type, and when he becomes engaged to Ana Margarita (Ana de Armas) and she dares ask him where his money comes from, she feels his wrath. Moura and de Armas played another couple straight after this in the similarly-factual Sergio (also on Netflix), yet in that one they were deeply in love, while here they do marry but she remains uneasy around him, and never inquires again into his employment (much like Diane Keaton’s Kay in the original The Godfather).

If all this sounds convoluted then that’s because it is rather, and then Assayas pulls a trick almost exactly halfway through the 123 minute running time with the introduction of the mysterious Gerardo Hernandez (Gael García Bernal), and suddenly the plot twists and becomes even more intricate. The Cuban hotel bombings of 1997? CIA informants? Double agents? Drug runners? They’re all here, as well as a hefty dose of anti-American sentiment, so if you’re a Trump supporter then this most definitely isn’t the movie for you. But, please, feel free to express your outraged feelings online and in uppercase without actually watching it.

It’s also worth noting, again, that among the main players de Armas is the only one who was actually born in Cuba: Cruz is Spanish (naturally), Ramírez is Venezuelan, Moura is Brazilian and Bernal is, of course, Mexican. Yes, they can all act, and they’re awfully good-looking too, but it does make one wonder if the production would have been a little more authentic – and avoided any timely accusations of cultural appropriation – by including more actual Cubans in the cast. Or at least a few?

Reviewer Rating
6/10

Wasp Network (M) is now streaming on Netflix

DM Bradley

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