Netflix UK film review: Wasp Network
Ivan Radford | On 21, Jun 2020
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Wagner Moura
Watch Wasp Network online in the UK: Netflix UK
Edgar Ramirez. Penelope Cruz. Gael Garcia Bernal. Wagner Moura. Wasp Network is a film that boasts a top flight cast. Coupled with Olivier Assayas at the helm, the political thriller (inspired by Fernando Morais’ book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War) is an exciting prospect.
It helps that the film’s focus is so unusual: the Wasp Network is a group of spies working for Cuba in the 1990s, which went undercover in Florida to infiltrate gangs planning anti-Castro terrorist attacks. To do this, each member defected from the communist island and took up arms with a rebellious organisation called Brothers to the Rescue. They flew missions over Havana, distributing leaflets criticising Cuba’s corrupt regime and dropping vital supplies to those trying to flee the nation for the freedom of America.
But, after following this activity for a while, we’re informed that they’re actually heroes of Cuba, not enemies of the state. If you’re starting to lose track, you’re not alone: Wasp Network is based on the true story of The Cuban Five who were arrested in Florida in September 1998, but doesn’t quite manage to communicate its remarkable subject matter into something approaching a cohesive story.
Assayas dazzled with his epic saga about Carlos the Jackal, which also starred Ramirez, but the two-hour-plus Wasp Network is sadly missing those extra hours needed to flesh out each narrative twist and turn. With big names on all sides, he winds up jumping from one character to another almost haphazardly, trying to do each one justice but ending up not giving any of them enough time to come into focus.
Ramirez is Rene, a pilot whose experience makes him a natural fit for the Brothers – and the separation from his wife, Olga (Cruz), as a result of his supposed defection, carries a tangible emotional impact. But their relationship and his motivations are as muddled as those of the other key players, including fellow pilot Juan (Moura), who is also tied to the FBI, and Gerardo (Bernal), the Network’s ringleader. Each of them are convincing and charismatic in their scenes, but never become more than surface-level figures, as Assayas glides over each one in the race to get to the next.
The aerial sequences along the way are stunningly executed, and some hotel attacks rivetingly recreated, but Wasp Network’s sting remains elusive despite its clear ambition. It has a top flight cast, but never manages to balance their weight to stick the landing.
Wasp Network is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.