Wasp Network review – Havana’s shadow army fuels taut Cuban spy drama | Film

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One morning in Cuba, René González kisses his wife and child goodbye, drives to the airstrip and steals a yellow biplane. He is fleeing poverty and communism and lighting out for the west – just another intrepid defector poised to fold himself in amid the swimming pools and art deco apartments of an abundant Miami. His future’s so bright he needs aviator shades.

Except, it’s more complicated than that. Yes, Olivier Assayas’s labyrinthine political thriller is here to shine a light on the exiles who targeted communist Cuba in the 1990s. But the film’s title is a clue to where its true loyalties lie. The so-called Wasp Network was a deep-cover cabal of state-funded spies, tasked with infiltrating anti-Castro groups in the US and relaying information back home. This was an army of shadows in Miami’s bright places, thwarting terrorist attacks on a country its members might not set foot in again.

González is played with an efficient frowning intensity by Edgar Ramírez, who previously starred in Assayas’s excellent mini-series Carlos. Once in Florida, the reputed defector crosses paths with several other exiles: the professorial Hernández (Gael García Bernal); the gangster-like Roque (Wagner Moura). And all the while his abandoned wife, Olga (Penélope Cruz), is left to fester in Havana, still working at the tannery and certain that her husband is a traitor. Which of course the man is – at least insofar as their marriage is concerned.

Wasp Network is adapted from The Last Soldiers of the Cold War: The Story of the Cuban Five, by Fernando Morais, and cleaves a little too closely to its factual source material. It’s an ambitious and busily journalistic affair, meticulously researched and moving quickly to cover all the ground as intertitles rush to inform us that it is now “four years earlier” or that we are at the “Copacabana hotel”. The film is glossy, illuminating and frequently exciting. What it lacks is an emotional charge and a fine-grained texture. We need to invest in these people in order to understand their decisions – and care about the consequences of these.

Watch clip from Wasp Network

Where Wasp Network deserves credit is in its depiction of the nauseating shift and drift that followed the end of the cold war, when the push for regime change in Cuba lost traction and the illegal trade in narcotics became an end in itself. At its best, Assayas’s thriller bears comparison to the work of the author Robert Stone, who wrote brilliantly paranoiac tales about double agents and drug smugglers and American imperialists come undone in the tropics. The likes of Hernández, Roque and González have spent so long on foreign soil, hiding out in the shadows. Small wonder they no longer know just whose side they are on.

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Source: The Guardian
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