Wasp Network (2019)

Even a master filmmaker can misfire big time in this shallow and messy star-studded stab at telling the narrative of the infamous ‘Cuban Five’.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Dir. Olivier Assayas
2019 | France/Spain | Crime/Drama/Thriller | 127 mins | 2.39:1 | English, Spanish & Russian
M18 (Netflix rating) for sexual scene

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Ana de Armas
Plot: The story of five Cuban political prisoners who had been imprisoned by the United States since the late 1990s on charges of espionage and murder.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: Orange Studio (SG: Netflix)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – History, Politics
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex (just messy really)
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

Olivier Assayas is one of my favourite contemporary writer-directors, but I’m absolutely disappointed by his latest, Wasp Network, which is a reminder that even a master filmmaker can flop big time when nothing quite aligns.  Itis his weakest picture in a long while and possibly one of his worst efforts. 

Wasp Network is a star-studded mess featuring the likes of Penelope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Edgar Ramirez and Ana de Armas whose characters are shallowly-written despite the subject matter.  I didn’t care for any of them, though the cast’s screen presence does help in making the film just bearable enough to complete. 

Assayas’ attempt at telling the narrative of the infamous ‘Cuban Five’, who were suspected of espionage and spying on the US, when in fact they were monitoring Cuban anti-communists based in Miami in order to disrupt their terroristic activities on Cuban soil, is at best half-hearted in execution, and at worst a great example of how to make what could have been a riveting historical-thriller an un-suspenseful and insignificant bore. 

Assayas’ maddeningly frequent use of the ‘fade out’ editing technique perhaps sums up the problems of this ill-paced, uninteresting stab at political intrigue—he doesn’t seem interested to let the scenes play out to their fullest, to tell these personal stories deeply.

Instead, what we get are fragments of the narrative (a complex one made unnecessarily complicated) and characters that move around the various timelines with little developmental change. 

Visually, however, it is at least a crisply-shot film, with Assayas giving us many aerial and maritime scenes involving planes and boats.  Ultimately, the picture is an ineffectual misfire.

Grade: C-



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