Wasp Network is not what it claims to be in terms of genre. This film is not a thriller. It’s purely and solely a political drama with several sequences geared toward a documentary. It’s so ambitious in its scope, it becomes incognizant of its sporadic storytelling. Wasp Network makes an attempt to follow the lives of the ‘Miami Five’, five Cuban political prisoners in the ’90s travelling back and forth between various Cuban cities and Miami, to spy on the Cuban exile community in Florida, and return their gained intelligence to the regime in Cuba. This film’s circuitous storytelling goes through meandering lanes and ultimately falls short because it’s just too much plot to squeeze into a feature length film. Such profound subject matter deserves more care and attention in its screenplay since it’s based on a true telling about militants attempting to free the communist nation of Cuba, and the spies sent to stop them.
The great Edgar Ramirez plays Rene Gonzalez, a pilot who leaves his wife Olga Salanueva (Penelope Cruz) and his daughter Irma (Carolina Peraza Matamoros) to flee from Cuba to Miami in a stolen airplane. Since Rene is a natural born American citizen in Chicago, he has no worries of deportation and gets placed in a three-month rent paid apartment in Miami to get settled, with the support of the Cuban American National Foundation, founded by their President, Jorge Mas Canosa. While in Miami, Rene works as a pilot instructor as a front, he gets offered a proposal from Jose Basulto (Leonardo Sbaraglia) to revolutionize Cuba and bring peace to it. But, of course, Rene is a spy engaging in espionage on behalf of Cuba to dismantle the operations in Miami that are scheming to takedown Fidel Castro. While in Miami, he writes letters to his wife Olga, and she writes back. This film would have faired well had it stayed on the story of Rene alone. But, since it takes a wide turn by abruptly introducing multiple storylines with characters that should have been protagonists in their own movies, it becomes too ambitious in its scope by jumping all over the map without a clear and concise method of tying every storyline together.
Wasp Network suddenly turns into being about Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) and his beauty queen Ana Martinez (Ana de Armas). Juan Pablo Roque left the communist regime of Cuba and sought political asylum in the United States, but he’s merely under cover as a Cuban spy with convoluted ties to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. What’s frustrating is this film shouldn’t have been confusing had its storytelling and directing been in superior hands. When Rene and Juan Pablo become friends while working with different anti-Castro groups and Cuban freedom fighters, the plot isn’t clearly explained. But, somehow, we manage to comprehend that Juan knows someone in the FBI and he and Rene become informants assisting in a drug smuggling bust. The very clever twist comes when we realize that both Rene and Juan Pablo have been Cuban spies all along.
This film is bloated. The story director Olivier Assayas was attempting to tell became unnecessarily convoluted with drawn out sequences that take up precious screen-time which should have been left on the cutting room floor. And not every line of dialogue spoken by the fantastic cast of actors is subtitled for non-Spanish speaking audiences to consciously comprehend. Often times the characters speak in Spanish, and the English subtitles don’t match the rate of the dialogue. The film’s editing felt like television production as opposed to filmmaking with strange cross dissolves; the transitions used in many scenes felt like it was time for an advertising commercial break on a network. There is a bizarre documentary sequence with montage using suddenly unexpected voice-overs in English, progressing the story in an attempt to compensate for where it lacked. This film is almost entirely in Spanish – should not the abrupt voice-over used over the sudden documentary style been in Spanish with English subtitles as well? That would have carried a certain consistency. The placement of the voice-over in English is almost admittance from the filmmakers to their awareness of the confusion they’ve caused, so they decided to throw in some English voice-overs over documentary style footage to hold the hands of non-Spanish speaking audiences.
This film lacks the thrills it promises and instead drags and jumps all over the place with no fluidity in its pacing. The acting is great, but the screenplay carries on without a sense of purpose in relation to the original narrative it set out to be. Certain scenes take place where characters have no objective, but serve as mere dialogue for them to get acquainted with one another. These scenes don’t move the story forward and merely distract audiences from the overall progression of the story.
Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez performs in his usual excellence with a bold presence. The Cuban born Ana de Armas has eyes that captivate us yet again. And the protruding voice of Wagner Moura commands respect. Nevertheless, Wasp Network‘s storytelling lacks the same fervor the actors give in their performances. This could have been a great film.