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The spy drama that's killing it on Netflix right now

Netflix's original films have managed to bring some of the best working directors in the business right onto our TVs and laptops. In the past few years alone, they've released films from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Dee Rees, and Noah Baumbach. On June 19, 2020, they added another iconoclast filmmaker to their ranks with the release of French director Olivier Assayas' political drama Wasp Network.

The film begins with a Cuban pilot and family man named René González (Édgar Ramírez), who defects to the United States, much to the shock of his wife, Olga (Penelope Cruz). However, René's motivations are not as straightforward as they first appear. The movie's deeply humane storytelling, thrilling plot, and top-notch cast that includes the likes of Ana de Armas and Gael García Bernal, have captured the interest of Netflix viewers, landing it among the ranks of the platform's most popular movies.

To celebrate Wasp Network's streaming success, we're going to take a closer look at this spy drama that's blowing up the charts on Netflix. Some spoilers ahead.

Wasp Network is based on a true story

Often, the truth is way more exciting than fiction. That is certainly the case when it comes to Wasp Network, which is inspired by real events. Assayas' screenplay was based on a book titled The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Brazilian journalist Fernando Morais. It details a harrowing chapter in Cuban-American relations during the late 20th century.

According to The Washington Post, Cuba created a network of spies charged with infiltrating groups of Cuban exiles operating in southern Florida who the Cuban government suspected of carrying out terrorist attacks on the island nation. Their spy ring was called La Red Avispa, or the Wasp Network — hence the title of the film. Eventually, five members of the Wasp Network were arrested and convicted on various charges of espionage. They became known as the Cuban Five, and their arrest became a significant political issue in Cuba. As of 2014, all five men had been released from prison.

The ripped-from-the-headlines story is hardly new territory for Assayas. In fact, the film even afforded the director an opportunity to reconnect with an actor with whom he worked on a similar project in the past.

The movie is a reunion for Olivier Assayas and Édgar Ramírez

In Wasp Network, Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez plays René González, one of the members of the Cuban Five. You may recognize Ramírez from other Netflix films like Bright and The Last Days of American Crime, or the title role of the FX series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Before he became a hot commodity in the U.S., he was launched to international stardom by none other than Olivier Assayas himself.

Ramírez starred in Assayas' 2010 epic Carlos. The five-plus-hour film (which was released as a miniseries on the Sundance channel in the U.S.) tells the story of real-life Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal. Despite its intimidating length, the film premiered at the 2010 Cannes film festival to rave reviews. Ramírez, in particular, was lauded for his performance and went on to be nominated for a number of awards, including a Golden Globe, a Screen Actor's Guild award, and an Emmy. He also won the award for Most Promising Newcomer at the César Awards, which are considered the French equivalent to the Oscars.

It was no accident that Assayas and Ramírez teamed up again for Wasp Network. While speaking at a Q&A during the New York Film Festival (NYFF), Assayas said, "I had been looking for a while for something that could reunite me with Édgar, we wanted to work together again after Carlos."

A desire to collaborate with Ramírez wasn't the only aspect of Carlos that Assayas was looking to recapture with Wasp Network.

Olivier Assayas made Wasp Network because he wanted to return to large-scale filmmaking

During the film's NYFF panel, Assayas expressed another desire for his latest film: "After making a few more intimate movies, I wanted to try again to make a movie that tried to articulate the human and the historical, meaning to deal with the complexity of the world, but seen through the eyes of human individuals lost in the chaos of the politics of that time."

Between Carlos and Wasp Network, Assayas directed five films, most of which existed on a much smaller scale. The Kristen Stewart-starring Personal Shopper follows a woman who believes she's receiving text messages from her recently deceased twin brother, while 2018's Non-Fiction is a comedy set in the world of the French publishing industry.

Although many of these films received positive reviews, Assayas wanted a change of pace. He told the audience of a Q&A at the Toronto International Film Festival that reactions to his last few projects had pushed him toward a return to form. "People were asking me, you know, 'Why [are] you making... small movies with a lot of dialogue [that are] boring' so on and so forth," he explained. "I kind of listened to them... my answer is this film."

Considering how well Wasp Network has been performing on Netflix, it's clear audiences are just as excited as Assayas is to be returning to the genre of hard-hitting political dramas.