Wasp Network review: Heroes of the Cuban Revolution

Wasp Network focuses on the heroes of the Cuban Revolution

Wasp Network, a new Netflix movie, was released on Netflix on June 19, 2020.

The film is based on the book, The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Fernando Morais, and it focuses on a group of Cuban exiles fighting against Castro from Miami in the early 1990s.

Wasp Network has an incredible cast with Penélope Cruz, Édgar Ramírez, Gael García Bernal, Ana de Armas, and Wagner Moura.

The film is also on the list of the best movies and shows to watch on Netflix in June.

What exactly is the Wasp Network? 

Fed up with the repressive life under the dictatorship of Fidel Castro, a group of Cuban exiles sought refuge in Miami and conducted military actions aiming to disintegrate the Castro regime. This organization known as the CANF (Cuban American National Foundation) strove to free Cuba and offer its citizen the democratic liberty they have been denied.

But fighting to liberate one’s land from totalitarianism cannot be done with complete moral exactitude. Thus, the CANF was accused of planning and funding terrorist attacks within Cuba. Several bombings motivated an attempt at maiming the touristic strength of the Caribbean island and create the assumption that Cuba is a dangerous place.

The Wasp Network, formed by members of the Brothers to The Rescue foundation and other Cuban spies who also settled in Miami to defend their home country, was created in direct response to the CANF’s violent methods. Their goal was to dismantle CANF’s attacks on Cuban soil. So the biggest question remained: “Who was watching who?”

The retelling of history with complete objectivity

Olivier Assayas, director of the Netflix movietook the helm to create a long film (runtime of two hours and seven minutes) that tells the story of the Cuban Revolution in all its complexity. Evidently, the political climate of the film involved the United States’ position and certain archival clips of Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro are introduced in the film. I would say that these insertions felt a little haphazard as the film struggled to combine the documentary feel with the fictional style effectively.

The cinematography was quite bland as the camera worked mainly with medium close-ups and wide-angle shots, rarely offering the audience members a closer look into the characters’ psyche and the possible conflicts that might be plaguing their internal worlds. Thus, we were left with a dispassionate look at the lives of agents who sacrificed much without evading accountability and responsibility for their actions.

On the other hand, the cast was stellar, boasting excellent actors such as Ana de Armas (Knives Out, Blade Runner 2049, War Dogs), Gael Garcia Bernal (Y tu Mama Tambien, Babel, Amores perros, Neruda), Wagner Moura (Narcos, Elysium, Elite Squad), Edgar Ramirez (Che, The Bourne Ultimatum, Zero Dark Thirty), and last but not least the essential Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Vanilla Sky, Volver).

But as we all know, it takes more than a powerful cast to make a good film and despite enthralling performances by the aforementioned actors, the film falls a little flat in its ability to relate the subtle problems that undercover agents and spies might face. I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed the slow revelation of these big names as the film went on. For example, Gael Garcia Bernal (one of my favorite actors) only appeared halfway through the film, offering me with a refreshed excitement for what the movie might still have in store.

Blending the political and the personal

It seems that Assayas worked hard to create an accurate historical replica of the events that unfolded during the efforts towards the Cuban liberation. I have seen Cuba firsthand shortly after the lifting of the American embargo. A land, suspended in time, brimming with the echoing laughter of a people that subsist on little by asking for little.

The Cuban locals I conversed with were separated into two camps: those who favored isolation, and those who rejected this political act and its nefarious effects. Needless to say, there was an undeniable uniqueness to the lifestyle that these inhabitants followed, the 1950s were transposed into 2018.

One of the opening scenes in Wasp Network shows character Rene Martinez (Edgar Ramirez) hopping on a bus headed towards Havana Vieja, and I got on that exact same bus where my payment was collected by a man standing at the door. I was hanging out the open door as the hulking machine sped through the humid streets, packed tightly against other strangers like sardines.

But I digress. The characters in the film are constantly moving between the moral duty of serving their country and the personal cost this has on their families.

The opening scenes show Rene Martinez (Edgar Ramirez) flying from Cuba into Miami, abandoning his wife Olga (Penelope Cruz) and their daughter Irma (then only a toddler) and signifying that the characters are making decisions that have long-lasting impact on their personal lives.

However, the narratives of the most relatable characters begin to lose their intensity as the film begins to sprawl farther and farther from its most compelling figures. Slowly, the story builds up, the FBI and the CIA get involved and the characters begin to act as a backdrop for a colossal historical moment in the history of Cuba and America.

Finally, it seems to me that Assayas attempted to tackle a subject that became too great for the length of the movie itself. Maybe, it would have done better as a Netflix original series?

Is Wasp Network worth watching?

Despite the apparent lack in cinematic quality, Wasp Network is still a film that offers a clear and strong perspective on an important historical event and if you were to undertake the journey for educational purposes.

I believe you would come out having learned a lot about the history of the United States and Cuba. I will say that my thirst for knowledge kept me going where my artistic appetite was not satiated.

Although Olivier Assayas seems to have relied too much on the strength of his cast to carry the movie, he did not shy away from presenting a very accurate depiction of the intertwining moral, ethical, political, and interpersonal aspects of the Cuban Revolution, creating a complex and important story. By presenting the audience with multiple sides of history, he earned himself a strong sense of agency and the ability to imply to his viewers:

This story is important to me, and I think it should be important to you as well.

Next: 50 best movies on Netflix: Summer 2020