Wasp Network review – an ambitious story that becomes incoherent and convoluted

2.5

Summary

Wasp Network had the makings of a smash hit with its fascinating story and all-star cast, but unfortunately the story becomes incoherent and convoluted under the weight of its own ambition.

Historical films that try to cover so much material within a limited time frame are notoriously incohesive. Netflix’s new based-on-a-true-story spy film, Wasp Network, has the makings of a smash hit. It has an all-star cast, a fascinating story, and the distinction of being one of the first films to shoot scenes in Cuba since the American embargo was lifted under the Obama administration. Sadly, the film has too much to tell in too little time.

Directed and written by Olivier Assayas, his script concerns how a group of defecting Cubans set up shop in the United States to dismantle a group of anti-Castro terrorist groups that have been operating in Miami in early 1990. Rene (Edgar Ramirez) defects to the States despite having his wife Olga (Penelope Cruz) and his young daughter at home that need his time and attention. Juan Pablo (Narcos’ Wagner Moura) swam from Cuba to Guantanamo Bay, successfully avoiding sharks, to announce his defection, and is rewarded with an obnoxious product placement of a McDonald’s meal for his troubles. He later meets his cousin who helps him (and Rene) turn as an FBI informer for $1,500 a week. He then meets a beautiful Cuban woman named Ana (reuniting with Sergio costar, Ana De Armas) and they start a life together. Gerardo (Gael Garcia Bernal) joins them as their team leader and awakes the nest to report CANF’s (Cuban-American National Foundation) plans to hasten Castro’s regime.

The French Assayas is perhaps best to know for his collaborations over the past few years with Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in films like Personal Shopper, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Non-fiction, all very distinctive films with an extraordinary amount of depth that, despite some sharp tonal shifts, are all remarkably fresh. Wasp Network has little going on below the surface with a fairly straightforward conflict that is relatively well known. Assaya’s script though does attempt to show both sides but has so many subplots that go on at once, the plot and even themes become convoluted.

This is a result of trying to tell a story with an eight-year vast amount of information, twists, and turns in 120-minutes. Films always need to be the length they need to be. Wasp Network, frankly, needed another hour to tell the story effectively because it has a real problem finding coherence in too many moving parts. I’ve said this before, and have been met with negative feedback, but if you are going to tell a story with this many variables, it really should be made into a limited series. This would allow all these narratives to come together and be told at a pace that serves the story better for the viewer.

The film’s best written and paced scene came with CANF’s terrorist attack on Cuba’s tourism, and the film needed more of it — which makes it that more interesting because it didn’t have a single scene with anyone from the all-star lineup. Wasp Network, even looking past its politics, tells a side that has rarely been examined from Hollywood with any type of magnifying glass, and was close to being a good biographical spy tale. It ultimately had the makings of a smash hit with its fascinating story and all-star cast, but unfortunately, the story becomes incoherent and convoluted under the weight of its own ambition.


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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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