June 17, 2020
By: Nicholas Ruhrkraut | June 17th, 2020

'Wasp Network' is on Netflix on June 19th, 2020.

While the epic, true story of Cuban spies who defected to Miami in the 1990’s shows promise, it never truly finds its footing and relies on some much-needed post-screening Wikipedia research for clarification. For those more interested in the Cuban-American exile-spy thriller, I can only hope that Fernando Morais’ book, “The Last Soldiers on the Cold War,” from which the film was adapted, is more fully realized. Wasp Network, originally released at 2019’s Venice Film Festival, is written and directed by the critically-acclaimed auteur Olivier Assayas. It feels hectic and rushed due to the web of elaborate accounts; a production of this size could have benefitted from a miniseries format, something Assayas accomplished with his three-part Carlos.

What begins with Rene defecting from Cuba to Miami to save the lives of other refugees fleeing the authoritarian regime, becomes the convoluted history of the Cuban Five infiltrating anti-Castro militant organizations. While the film does a thorough job presenting the facts, it loses energy from the constant switch between an overloaded network of characters, times, and locations. Becoming disconnected from the narrative seems more of an inevitability with the frequent fade ins and outs and the scattered storylines leading to a delayed convergence of all of the characters. The one exception to this error is, of course, Penelope Cruz, who ignites the screen with an emotional performance as Rene Gonzalez’s wife.

Furthermore, the conflict of morality and survival muddle the lines of good and evil. Multiple times throughout the film, Assayas hints at America’s guilt in the debacle: he plainly opens the film stating that the US embargo on Cuba has “resulted in tremendous hardship for the population.” Then, not ten minutes into the film, the leader of the Brothers to the Rescue organization admits that he was “trained by the U.S. as a terrorist,” akin to John Wayne’s formidable cowboy. Yet, the film provides no positive voice in favor of Castro’s oppressive, communist rule, either.

So, while the film leaves you with feelings of confusion and ambiguity, it is still an entertaining and picturesque history lesson.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

Nick Nicholas Ruhrkraut (Contributor) - lives in New York City but is a Midwestern boy at heart. He loves discussing everything film on his podcast "Oscar Wild," cooking and baking at home, reading, and traveling.
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