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‘Wasp Network’: Oliver Assayas’ spy flick is intriguing but lacks emotional core

Representative image/ Photo by alleksana from Pexels

Wasp Network(2019) is about a bunch of Cuban infiltrators in Florida, spying on anti-revolutionary groups in the US and relaying information about their plans back to their homeland.

It’s based on real events which took place in the 1990s and about which I had no clue. The movie interested me.

However, if I were familiar with the events depicted in the film, I doubt I would have stuck with it for more than half an hour.

Not that Oliver Assayas’ movie is badly made. On the contrary, the film is much better crafted than your average espionage thriller, decisively observing events unfold with journalistic flair(perhaps not surprising given how the movie is based on a non-fiction book).

However, what alienates you as an audience is the lack of an emotional center.

One could argue that Olga, the wife of one of the men who leaves Cuba to settle in Florida in the name of the revolution, is the emotional crux.

But the woman- played with devastating earnestness by Penelope Cruz- occupies an emotionally central space only in the last half an hour of this 2 hour film.

The movie is labyrinthine in that Assayas seeks to immerse us in the lives of multiple characters, with their own aspirations motivating their actions.

To the director’s credit, all characters- though crammed into a 2 hour movie- do feel distinct in their mannerisms and motivations, and through them he contrasts a materially struggling culture of Cuba with the more affluent US.

Perhaps, the biggest achievement of the film is in giving us insight into the moral belief systems that divide a revolutionary from the average person.

On the flipside, this morality comes across as more intellectual than emotional — more an aspect uncovered by detached observation than something the nuances of which are transferred to us through the medium of a story.

Compared to a Hollywood spy thriller, the film is obviously made with a limited budget. This means explosions have to be suggested more than shown, and certain locations are glimpsed upon than explored.

The lack of pomp a limited budget results in also gives the audience a certain intimacy with the characters that a bigger budget probably would have curtailed. The acting feels all the more natural for that reason.

Having said that, it should also be mentioned that the actors that Assayas has cast are dashingly beautiful. Nothing wrong with this- especially when they act as well as the cast has done here.

However, it does make it incredibly hard to think you are watching something that is not staged.

A complete immersion in the lives of characters is what any director hopes for his audience. The ultra-glamorous spies in the movie is only one thing that foils that attempt.

The other is a clinical gaze at events which makes us the outsider even as we remain acutely aware of the fact throughout the movie.

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