Written by: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Édgar Ramírez, Gael García Bernal, Ana de Armas, Wagner Moura
Deception can be extremely harmful to those impacted but it can create the greatest results for those utilizing it for their own gain. The pulling of the rug can occur at any moment, which Wasp Network uses to its advantage narratively even if it has far too much to synthesize into a singular feature film. Even with its issues, it highlights a truly tremendous effort put forward by one of the greatest collections of Latinx talent around.
After finding a way to escape Fidel Castro-lead Cuba for Miami, René González (Édgar Ramírez) begins his work as a pilot for the Cuban American National Foundation. With these efforts, the organization hopes to strike the final blow of Castro in Cuba and begin a new era of democracy. With several other perspectives being brought in, the actions by these characters do not appear to be as straightforward as you would believe.
Based on a true collection of Cuban spies, knowing the history of this group may take away the tension and surprise Wasp Network attempts to implement, but it definitely got me. The narrative presents a story of people getting away from oppression and trying to start a new life but midway through the film, it all gets flipped on its head, which adds some confusion but also recontextualizes everything seen in the first act. The confusion came in trying to decipher exactly which group attempted to do what in the effort to either save or revolutionize Cuba. The calls for action were used by many of the characters with the motives being unclear. Whether or not these individuals were fighting for a future Cuba with Castro still at the helm became the ultimate dividing line.
You should not be blamed for being aghast at the tremendous amount of talent on display in this feature, as it may be one of the most impressive collections of Latinx talent in an American film. With this ethnic group being seen as a monolith at times, it became interesting to point out the different actor’s origins and how they play into a strictly Cuban story. There’s Penélope Cruz (Spain), Édgar Ramírez (Venezuela), Wagner Moura (Brazil), Gael García Bernal (Mexico), Ana de Armas (Cuba), and Leonardo Sbaraglia (Argentina). None of them from the same nation but all portraying Cubans in some shape or form. There could be a whole separate discussion of these actors always having to portray individuals from other nations, but it undoubtedly shows the level of incredible talent on display and they all bring their greatness to the screen. These performances ultimately saved the film even as the material they received got a bit too big for what the narrative wanted to accomplish.
Each actor gets their moment to shine with Édgar Ramírez and Penélope Cruz getting a good amount of the spotlight. The story essentially begins and ends with them as a married couple caught right in the middle of the espionage fight between Cuba and its adversaries. Cruz must deal with the truly haunting roller coaster ride this film puts her character through as she’s seen as the wife of a traitor with René leaving the family and going to the United States. Whether that’s fair to her or not, she must adjust and find a way to care for her family on her single income. Cruz delivers another one of her trademark performances in this role by providing the level of energy she has shown in the past. She makes it impossible for anything else to be important when she appears on-screen. A special shout out also to Leonardo Sbaraglia, who I could not truly pick out when he first appeared on-screen but his beautiful voice finally put everything together to remind me of his spellbinding performance in Pain and Glory. He became such a welcomed presence in this feature.
As for the rest of the narrative, the intrigue plays out as the fallout arrives for the decisions being made. The allegiances and connections become much clearer to display a situation where a systematic approach to deter Cuba through destroying their tourism became apparent. It creates a moral conundrum because Fidel Castro has been villainized aplenty by western cultures for his human rights violations, but the tactics to bring down his regime involved some truly heinous acts as well. It impacted innocent people and made things difficult for individuals trying to find some enjoyment in life. This conflicting feeling permeates throughout and accomplishes the desired murkiness this espionage had on the people involved.
Come for actors and stay solely for those actors, Wasp Network assembles incredible talent to tell a story of deception and revolution. It does not accomplish its full potential but it manages to land enough strong beats to let the actors do the rest and they certainly brought it. Each time a different one popped up, I kept forgetting just how great it was to see these talented folks come together to tell a story about a Latinx experience even with most of them not being Cuban. It does not happen often enough.