Wasp Network – TIFF 2019 Review

In the frenetic heat of festival season, it’s never a good sign to hear the news of a film that you’ve been excited to see for months, is supposedly being re-cut, after being helmed with mixed reactions from early festival goers. It happened last year at the Toronto International Film Festival with Outlaw King; which was actually one of the major Gala Presentations in 2018, with the production being an over 100-million budget Netflix film. With Wasp Network, Olivier Assayas’ latest espionage Latin-based picture that can be best described as a piece of historical-fiction (that contains similar themes and an attuned style to Assayas’ 2010 award winning mini-series Carlos), rumors have been drastically spreading that the director and his crew, are planning to re-edit the film, in time for the New York Film Festival. Wasp Network, unlike the TIFF 2018 version of Outlaw King, is a surprisingly hefty film, that honestly doesn’t need to be re-cut.

Wasp Network is a surprisingly good film. As much as this sentiment may not ring true to many people who still have doubts regarding the film’s questionable behind the scenes festival chaos, there’s plenty to appreciate within it’s garbled timelines and bountiful cast of colorful characters. I for one, was never confused by the film, unlike many of my other associate peers and critics. With the exception of an unnecessary wiretapping scene, everything in Wasp Network flows in a cohesive pace. The film never let’s down this momentum, and continuously impresses with it’s twists and turns throughout it’s depicted locations of Cuba and Miami. Let it be known that Wasp Network is the least identifiable film that Assayas has made to date. His regular visual flare and sardonic metaphorical scripts are nowhere to be seen here, in replacement with a decent espionage drama, that actually gives a shit about it’s characters and narrative elements. It’s refreshing to see a drama, that although has elements that have been done plenty of times before, still feels tense and heartwarming in places need be. 

The lack of Assayas’ usual visual flare is something that I still deeply miss however. Regardless of how adequately executed the important material and messages were delivered here, the specific lack of innovation and imagination in the film’s transitions and camerawork is deeply upsetting. Seeing the multiple title cards indicating a change in direction and time is especially nauseating, when Assayas and his team don’t even try in utilizing the key elements of cinema (ex. production design, costumes, dialogue and language) to present a new location. The end result just feels like lazy post-production editing. The lead cast may be star studded, with plenty of incredible actors presenting a large range of talent (from Gael García Bernal to Penélope Cruz), but the film’s identity seems stuck on the ground, and ironically flightless. 

Wasp Network is undeniably solid, as it presents numerous twists and turns throughout its depiction of real-life espionage and terror plots. It’s a shame that this film never felt as urgent as it should have on the other hand. With a revealing finale that ultimately unveils the numerous barbaric downfalls of the American judicial system, during a period of constant bickering buzz, the film plays this information safe, without much need to urge the audience to even care about these real-life heroes and villains. It’s more of a miss from Assayas, but it’s a film that simply can’t be shut out of local conversations and discourse. Consider me intrigued to see the new version of the film, when it eventually supposedly releases later this year.

Wasp Network screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The film is currently seeking North American distribution

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