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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Olivier Assayas
prd Rodrigo Teixeira, Charles Gillibert, Lourenco Sant'Anna
with Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, Wagner Moura, Gael Garcia Bernal, Ana de Armas, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nolan Guerra Fernandez, Tony Plana, Osdeymi Pastrana Miranda, Julian Flynn, Anel Perdomo, Julio Gabay
release Fr 29.Jan.20,
19/France Netflix 2h03
VENICE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
Watch it now...
Based on a true story, this drama explores complex personal and political connections between Cuba and Florida. French filmmaker Olivier Assayas tells the story skilfully, with a superb cast and top-notch production values. It's fascinating and often astonishing, although this material seems more suited to an in-depth miniseries, as the plot leaps too briskly through many years, multiple points of view and a wide range of key events.
Escaping from Havana in 1990 because US sanctions are strangling Cuba, pilot Rene (Ramirez) connects with Cuban nationals in Miami, but misses his unsuspecting wife Olga (Cruz) and young daughter Irma (Miranda). He soon joins Cuban exile Jose (Sbraglia) to help rescue refugees fleeing on rafts. And another pilot, Juan Pablo (Moura), also defects and joins the operation. But Jose is also running drugs and staging terrorist operations. So Rene and Juan Pablo begin secretly informing the FBI, even as Cuba keeps a watchful eye on everything.
Jose reminds Rene that his organisation is military, not humanitarian, and their ultimate plan is to free Cuba, which adds a complexity to each side in this undercover war. But it's a lot! The larger narrative is stitched together with everything from tiny details to extended set-pieces. A sudden "four years earlier" segment introduces Bernal's Cuban spy, sent to Miami to coordinate the extensive Wasp Network infiltrating the rebel groups. There's a mini-doc detailing this, rerouting the movie in a new direction.
Ramirez, Moura and Bernal are excellent as usual as cocky men hiding lots of secrets. Even as they collaborate, they're lying to each other, which makes their interconnections complex and intriguing. Female characters are also well-played, even if their roles are more reactive: Cruz's Olga mainly highlights the difficulties of life in Cuba before getting her own strong scenes, while de Armas' Ana Margarita has the grandest set-piece, her lavish wedding to Juan Pablo, plus an echoing parallel plot as he deserts her.
Packed with engaging and powerfully provocative characters, the story is fascinating and scenes are riveting, although the uneven pace makes it difficult to get involved. There are big emotional kicks in the smaller moments, but Assayas' script is panoramic, depicting an array of varied events and switching perspective just as we begin to engage with someone. Assayas is a gifted filmmaker who juggles all of these elements adeptly, but a longer format (like his Carlos the Jackal miniseries) would have painted the broader picture with a much bigger impact.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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