A technological terror is loose and it is up to a ragtag group of intelligence agents (Jessica Chastain, Lupitia Nyong'o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz and Fan Bingbing) to find it and defeat the parties interested in selling and using it.
This movie is a bit of a heartbreaker.
The cast are the best thing about it - and I mean their names on the poster.
I did not read any reviews going in, but I was aware they were not good. I decided to go anyway - maybe the movie would work on me and I could have something interesting to write about.
Co-written by Theresa Rebeck and Simon Kinberg, and directed by Kinberg, The 355 is a weird experience.
It does not succeed at what it wants to be, but that failure to work is not enjoyable to watch. Rather than putting an original spin on the Bond/Bourne spy thriller template, this movie is bland, underwritten and shapeless.
It is not the kind of movie I like to review.
The script does not really set up the characters and the situation never feels that bad. It also feels tired and cliche in such an obvious way - the line ‘the friend of my enemy is my friend’ is uttered without irony.
This movie also crystallised something I dislike about these kinds of action thrillers. I enjoy the escapism of undercover capers and global schemes, but I do not like too much connection to real world contexts (in this movie’s case, the War on Terror). Unless the movie is going to offer some kind of critique or satirical reading, I find it hard to get invested in pure jingoism.
The movie (mostly) centres around agents from major powers and for the first half it felt like it was setting up the familiar dynamic of good Western agents chasing nefarious foreigners through world locales.
The movie’s early sequences ultimately set up a betrayal designed to undermine the main characters’ belief in their bosses. However the plot turn is obvious and the way the characters resolve the situation left me baffled as to the movie’s ultimate point.
Have they seen the impact of their role on the world? Do they want to fight against the system they used to represent? At one point, a villain points out the CIA’s role in destabilising governments around the world, but the movie has no deeper point to make.
This is a big budget movie from a Hollywood studio so it is ridiculous to expect a radical re-working. But filmmakers have made radical statements through popcorn movies before and it feels like there is a more subversive version of this movie that could have been made here.
While the movie has no dramatic or thematic originality, I was hoping that the movie would compensate with the conventions of its genre, primarily some interesting set pieces and sense of scale.
But despite being a globe-trotting thriller, this movie feels small. The action and choreography veers between competent (some of the one take fight scenes) and confusing (the final shootout).
The editing in this movie is bizarre - shots are cut together in a way that frustrates geography or work against the pace. There is also a televisual quality to the visuals, with an over-emphasis on close-ups and mid-shots of characters, particularly during group interactions, when we are supposed to buy their growing rapport.
Weirdly, the main selling point - the cast - do not provide any compensation. It feels like the actors are miscast - what is worse is that they do not seem to have chemistry with each other.
It seems like this movie wants to present characters who are pros and keep their inner selves behind a facade, but it does it wrong because these characters never come alive - Chastain is a boy scout, Nyong'o is a computer whiz; Cruz wants to go home to her kids; Kruger is hard as nails; Fan Bingbing is working 5 moves ahead. These characters seem defined by their jobs and never build beyond what little we know of them.
At the level of the story and how it is told, this movie feels dead - actors speak at each other with no real feelings and fire guns at targets we cannot see. The stakes never rise and the movie goes on forever.
The 355 is unexceptional in its failure to execute, and that is disappointing considering the talent involved.
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