Monday, July 6, 2020

Deux Thrillers de Netflix: WASP NETWORK and

The new Olivier Assayas film, Wasp Network, now on Netflix, isn’t one of his better works. It’s oddly paced, and sometimes inscrutable, in ways that resist drawing the audience in. But it all draws together with a satisfying melancholic snap in the end. It’s also threaded through with Assayas’ typical interests in a setting’s specificities, and in the subtle shifts of interpersonal power dynamics. It’s a worthy effort. This based-on-a-true-story quasi-thriller criss-crosses between Cuba and Florida during the 1990s, following a Cuban pilot (Edgar Ramírez, reuniting with his Carlos director) who escapes to Miami and defects. There he is drawn into a crowd of covert operatives working to subvert Castro’s grip on their home country. Or at least, that’s what they claim. The film moves with methodical procedural tension, slowly developing the characters’ plans and plots, while also cutting back to the people left behind, especially the pilot’s wife (Penélope Cruz) who kindly tells their daughter her father is a hero, while privately nursing a wounded pride over his desertion. Double and triple crosses are patiently teased out as we get a few gripping sequences of high-flying spy missions, small bright white planes dipping and rattling against the tropical blue sea and sky, with terse cuts between crackling radios. The performers (including Gael García Bernal and Ana de Armas) sink into their roles so that the high drama plays less like amped-up movie spy-craft, and more docudrama matter-of-factness most of the time. It sparks to life best when the filmmaking leans in harder: spilt screen heist-like exposition, or elaborate shuffling of allegiances revealed with a confident ta-da. The film is a professional, sharply photographed, competently designed work fitted to the story it tells. Assayas is too good a filmmaker to totally disappoint. This one just takes a little longer for its parts to click into place.

Slightly more lowbrow, and all the better for it, is a few clicks away from the Assayas: the terrific actioner Lost Bullet. This debut feature for French writer-director Guillaume Pierret is a tense B-movie, so lean and satisfying that it features a handful of exciting action sequences in a compellingly simple plot, wrapped up nice and tight in just under 88 minutes. Its lead is a prisoner (Alban Lenoir) allowed to work souping up the cars of a special cop brigade so that they can more effectively chase down high-speed criminals. These cops turn out to be mostly crooked, and, as one thing leads to another, our lead is on the run, framed for a murder he didn’t commit. The rest of the film is in a mad dash to find the eponymous lost bullet before the bad guys do. There are sensational car stunts on the regular, culminating in a great, crunchy symphony of squealing tires, revved engines, and vehicular destruction that literally tears cars apart and leaves them trailing glass, bleeding oil or even bursting into flame as they continue to race to their final destinations. It’s not non-stop car chases, as it pauses for just enough characterization to care about, and the occasional well-staged shoot-out or hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, the good apples back at the station don’t believe the only cop who knows what’s actually going on. (That she’s a woman of color (Stéfi Celma) plays potently in this summer of reckoning with police prejudice.) The action is portioned out perfectly, and the connective tissue is taut thriller plotting. There’s not a wasted second or spare shot to be found. It’s filmed in clean, bright, frames cut with quick, legible montage. It’s a blast. Pierret may be a first-timer, but he knows what he’s doing. It’s exactly what you’d want this movie to be.

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