Written & Directed by #OlivierAssayas
Writer-Director Olivier Assayas’ Wasp Network is based on the 2011 book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Fernando Morais. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2019 and, after screenings at other major film festivals, has now found its way onto Netflix.
Pilots René González (Édgar Ramírez) and Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) leave Cuba for Miami in the early 1990’s. Initially, the pair work for the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) who act against the Castro regime using terrorism. However, Juan introduces René to a secret Cuban organisation, the Wasp Network. René then becomes a spy to observe and infiltrate the anti-Castro organisations operating from Miami.
As he has proved before, Ramírez makes for a likeable but largely lifeless lead. Also, Moura is similarly dull and lacks the presence Ramírez at least has in his favour. Instead, the pair are upstaged by a charismatic supporting cast with Penélope Cruz, in particular, shining as René’s long-suffering but unfaltering wife, Olga. Cruz brings an effortless naturalism to her role and her performance is the best thing in Assayas’ film. Another effective turn comes from gorgeous, upcoming Bond girl Ana de Armas, who plays Juan’s love interest and, very soon, his wife (also called Ana).
The consequences and impact on the relationships of the two women make for a quietly powerful contrast. Olga is left to fend for her two children, working through a series of menial jobs towards the goal of bringing her family back together. All the while, Olga and her daughter (Carolina Peraza Matamoros also earning a thumbs-up) have to deal with the uncomfortable accusations of the defected René's treachery. Elsewhere, Juan heroically swims across Guantanamo Bay, achieves celebrity status and enjoys a “wedding of the decade” with the glamorous Ana. However, things end up playing out very differently. After years of enduring hardship, Olga learns that René is no traitor, but a heroic life-saver, and is reunited with her husband. The luxury-living Ana wakes up to find the media descending on her home and discovers that Juan has, unexpectedly, returned to Cuba and revealed his role as a double agent. When asked on-air by a reporter what he misses most about Miami, Juan simply replies “My Jeep Cherokee”. Ana gets no mention whatsoever, while Olga reunites with a tearful René when she finally arrives in Miami.
With its story of Cuban spies in Miami, enigmatic title and action regular Ramírez (recently starring in The Last Days of An American Crime) along with A-lister Cruz receiving top billing, Wasp Network could forgivably be mistaken for an exciting, popcorn thriller at the outset. Playing close to the facts, and the personal circumstances surrounding events, Assayas avoids the sensational and delivers a grounded, journalistic drama. Indeed, the director achieves an almost documentary-like quality throughout his film. Even the more dramatic events (the shooting down of two aircraft and Salvadoran terrorist Raúl Cruz León’s bomb-planting in Havana hotels) are recreated with a simplicity that makes them seem unnervingly real.
Fans of overblown action-thrillers admittedly won’t find many thrills in Wasp Network. Those searching for something more down-to-earth, and true-to-life, may find just what they’re looking for.