Eye For Film >> Movies >> Castro’s Spies (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Say you're in charge of a small nation just a short distance away from a much larger, hostile nation. It has a famous, well funded network of spies operating all around the world, as well as top rate counterintelligence agents operating internally. Its leaders constantly decry the way you're running your country and, given that it has a history of involvement in military action on its neighbours' territory, you're worried that it might invade - but you don't have the resources to mount an attack. What would you do? How would you make best use of the resource you did have - loyal citizens?
The Cuban Five, as they are popularly known, were arrested in the US in September 1998 and given lengthy prison sentences, but this was always controversial, triggering widespread debate even before they took their cases to appeal. Did they ever have malicious intent towards the US or its citizens? Did they do anything that was, strictly speaking, against the law? Was the decision to jail them about justice or about politics? Directors Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon don't take a side on the politics of it all, but they do present a fascinating breakdown of the situation and raise the question that perhaps most troubles the US: how did this group of non-professional agents with very little back-up and next to budget get away with what they did for so long?
All of the Five - René González, Fernando González, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino - share their thoughts here, along with former handlers, family members and senior figures from US intelligence. There's such a wealth of material that you'll be intrigued as to what was left out. Nobody involved seems to have shifted in their core beliefs but the US contributors express their respect for the Cubans' skill although they still struggle to understand why any of them did what they did when they weren't being paid.
Alongside fascinating details of what their acts of espionage actually involved and how they went about them, this film explores the way that the Cuban skies built up their cover and the challenges they faced in maintaining it. This wasn't just a matter of avoiding situations or behaviours that might lead to exposure, but involved an emotional and moral toll - for an ordinary person equipped with an ordinary level of empathy, it's hard to pretend to be somebody else all the time, especially when it involves befriending somebody whom one finds loathsome or, indeed, developing genuine friendly feelings for someone one is there to betray.
Then there's the cost of leaving loved ones behind in Cuba, unable to risk telling them the truth, so that they believed the men had betrayed both them and their country. One of the women provides powerful testimony about the agony she felt - before she started to do some spying of her own, sending Cuban intelligence into a panic as they worried that she would inadvertently expose them.
Inventively illustrated with a mixture of archive news footage, still photography and clips from Cuban television series about espionage, the film is constantly engaging and entertaining. it will fascinate fans of spy films and has plenty of trills, spills and unlikely stories for a general audience. Aslin and Lennon have created a remarkable piece of work.Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2021
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