It’s the pacing, stupid.
I wanted to see WASP NETWORK (2020) because I enjoy most of the actors in it.
Edgar Ramirez was excellent in HANDS OF STONE (2016), where he played boxer Roberto Durant in a movie that didn’t receive much love but I liked a lot.
Wagner Moura knocked it out of the park as Pablo Escobar on the TV show NARCOS (2015-16), and Ana de Armas has been showing up everywhere these days and making lasting impressions in nearly every film she’s in, from BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) to KNIVES OUT (2019). She co-starred with Edgar Ramirez in HANDS OF STONE, and with Wagner Moura in SERGIO (2020), a film I reviewed several weeks back that I liked much more than WASP NETWORK. And she was in THE NIGHT CLERK (2020) another movie I just reviewed, and she’s slated to star in the next James Bond movie NO TIME TO DIE (2020).
And the movie also stars Penelope Cruz.
WASP NETWORK actually tells a very interesting story about Cuban spies who infiltrate the United States to thwart the efforts of other Cubans in the U.S. who are working to overthrow Castro but don’t care how they do it, often dealing with drug dealers and terrorists. So, the film actually has a pro-Castro slant since the protagonists in this one are working to keep Castro in power. Which is an interesting take on the subject of Cuba-U.S. relations.
However, it is all undone by some absolutely horrible pacing and one very sloppy narrative style.
WASP NETWORK opens with Rene Gonzalez (Edgar Ramirez) defecting from Cuba to the United States, leaving his wife Olga Salanueva (Penelope Cruz) and young daughter behind. Settling in Florida, he joins a group of Cuban resistance fighters whose outward mission is to assist fellow Cubans who want to enter the United States but who are secretly working behind the scenes to end the reign of Fidel Castro. The first thirty minutes or so of the movie tell Rene’s story.
Then the action switches to Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) who also defects from Cuba and who also joins the same group Rene did. Juan Pablo also meets and falls in love with Ana Magarita Martinez (Ana de Armas) who he eventually marries. The second thirty minutes of the movie tells Juan Pablo’s story.
So, the first hour of the film, while slow, is at least coherent, as we are introduced to two similar characters in similar situations, and when they meet, the stage is set for the story to go somewhere. Unfortunately, where it goes and how it gets there is a major disappointment.
See, we are introduced to a third character, Jose Basulto (Leonardo Sbaraglia) who we learn runs a Cuban spy ring which is secretly working to thwart the efforts of the group that Rene and Juan Pablo work for, and furthermore, out of the blue we also learn that Rene and Juan Pablo are actually part of this group of spies working for Basulto.
So, as stories go, again, there’s nothing wrong with this one, but there is something very wrong with the way it unfolds. The number one problem is the pacing. The first hour of the film is exceedingly slow, but this can be forgiven because at least a couple of interesting characters are being introduced.
But during the film’s second half, the pacing issues do not improve. In fact, they get worse. Furthermore, there’s the added element of a bizarre narrative style that sinks this one long before the end credits roll, and with a running time of two hours and seven minutes, that’s a long time to sit through a film that clearly is not working.
Director Olivier Assayas can’t seem to focus on more than one character at time. The story is told in chunks, each chunk on one character, and so folks in this movie tend to disappear for long stretches. Two thirds of the way through there’s also a montage which comes out of nowhere which introduces the members of the Wasp Network. The only trouble is, we never see these folks again until we learn their fates just before the end credits roll, as the only Wasp Network members the movie focuses on are Rene, Juan Pablo, and Jose Basulto. It’s a bizarre moment that doesn’t fit at all with the rest of the movie.
Assayas also uses camera fades way too often, making for a disjointed narrative. He used them with greater success in the underrated ghost story flick PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016) starring Kristen Stewart, a film I liked a lot.
The screenplay by Assayas and Fernando Morais struggles to tell a coherent story, which is too bad because as stories go it’s an intriguing one on a subject I wanted to learn more about. But it fails on all levels. The dialogue is sleep-inducing, the narrative is poorly executed, and the characters remain low-key and lifeless throughout.
Not even a cast of actors whose talents I enjoy were able to save this one. Penelope Cruz probably fares the best as Rene’s long suffering wife who never really leaves his side, even though they spend most of the movie separated from each other. But her best scenes don’t come until the latter half of the movie.
Edgar Ramirez is fine as Rene, in what is the closest role the film has to being a lead, but it’s role that is not fleshed out satisfactorily enough. Things are even worse for Wagner Moura as Juan Pablo. His character is not developed at all, and while Moura channels charm and charisma in the role, it’s all for not.
And Ana de Armas is reduced to an unimportant supporting role, and her character pretty much disappears for the entire second half of the movie.
WASP NETWORK was filmed in 2019 by the way but was only released in June 2020.
WASP NETWORK was a major disappoint for me, mostly because I’m a story guy, and the story told here was done so very sloppily and without any sense of pacing.
Instead of watching WASP NETWORK, I suggest you defect to another movie choice.