Review by Sean Boelman
The newest film from acclaimed French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper), the spy thriller Wasp Network is far more conventional than most of the rest of his recent work, but it still isn’t super accessible for mainstream audiences. Hard-to-follow at times, but entertaining and well-acted, the movie doesn’t live up to the standard that fans will have for the director’s work, but is still worth a watch nonetheless.
The film follows a group of five Cuban spies in the United States who pose as defectors in an attempt to infiltrate anti-Castro terrorist groups and foil their plans to overthrow the Cuban regime. It’s an interesting story, and it makes for a pretty exciting thriller, but unfortunately, Assayas’s script is too unfocused for the movie to have its full impact.
In the first half of the film, the audience is introduced to two leads (played by Edgar Ramírez and Wagner Moura), and their stories are pretty compelling. At this point, the movie is still a pretty buoyant and energetic thriller, moving through brief action sequences and intelligent dialogue at a brisk pace.
Then, right around the halfway mark, the third protagonist (Gael García Bernal) is added into the equation, and everything that happened in the first hour is rendered moot. At least it seems to be that way at first. A brief glimpse at the synopsis will explain the confusion of the situation and catch everyone back up, but unfortunately, few viewers will have the luxury of referencing press notes to reference.
The film also largely wastes the female characters, which have the promise to be even more compelling than their male counterparts. Playing the wife of a traitor-turned-hero, Penélope Cruz is awesome in the few meaty scenes she actually gets. Ana de Armas is also impressive in her role but is given even less material.
All three of the male leads do a fine job in the movie, but since their segments run concurrently to each other, they don’t get much of a chance to work off of each other’s strengths. Moura turns in what is perhaps the most impressive performance of the group, but his storyline is largely abandoned in the second act.
The film is also a bit of a mess on a technical level. The editing is choppy, dividing the movie into what is effectively a series of scenes that aren’t quite stitched together. There are way too many fades to black for no good reason, and as a result, audiences will end up feeling desensitized to the passage of time within the narrative.
Wasp Network is a frustrating film to figure out, and will likely be even more so to the average Netflix viewer. Still, if one can abandon their sense of logic and watch the movie for its other merits, it can be a mostly enjoyable experience.
Wasp Network streams on Netflix beginning June 18.