The 355; Directed by Simon Kinberg; Written by Theresa Rebeck and Simon Kinberg; 2h5m; Theatrically released January 7, 2022; Starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penelope Cruz, Sebastian Stan, Jason Flemyn. PG-13.
The year 2022 has begun (although this is being written as the first month ends) and with it comes the first bad theatrical movie of the year in director Simon Kinberg’s The 355, a lackluster spy thriller headed up by Jessica Chastain.
The plot – Chastain is an agent for the CIA. She and her partner Sebastian Stan are sent to Paris to retrieve a goober which can, sigh, control every single computer thing in the world with like two keystrokes and a hacker saying “I’m in.” After their stupid plan (using an unnecessary cover story and an obvious “these are spies doing a hand off”) goes awry, she goes rogue. Former-MI6 agent/computer expert and current exposition machine Nyong’o joins her, along with German agent Kruger and Cruz as a reluctant psychiatrist. All want the goober for reasons, personal or governmental, but it’s all so dumb my eyes hurt from rolling so often. Also on hand are shady superiors, generic villain Jason Flemyng, and Fan Bingbing in what feels like an added diversion.
This is the type of movie where, in order for the plot to progress, every single person is awful at their jobs. For a collection of spies, they never pick up on any twist or obvious setup until long after the audience has. They put their hands to their ears as they talk over earbuds. They frequently and freely shoot in and into crowded, public areas and miss just about every shot. People appear and disappear as needed, and suddenly have the exact equipment they need despite having no time or ability to gather. Spy movies often have these hang-ups. But when one is piled upon the other and little good to distract it becomes glaring rather than ignorable.
This is also the type of movie where we see a very talented group of actors and watch them all flail externally and cringe internally to state this dialogue and keep the movie afloat. It’s possible there was a great script many drafts in the past to get this level of talent on board, but all the good is lost by the time it goes before cameras with Kinberg (not unlike the journey to 2001’s Ghost Ship). It may be so as the writing is Theresa Rebeck AND Kinberg, meaning he took what she had and wrote enough new material to get credit. I wonder who is to blame for the bloated over two-hour run time as the film just keeps going and going. We think we’re done, coming to head, and BOOM new location halfway around the world to set up, move pieces, and let it play again. Just STOP.
It doesn’t help Chastain is really out of her element. As the lead, she’s lost in trying to present any real emotion; it feels like she’s reading from cue cards. Nor does the action land, as it looks like she’s never held a gun before in her life, let alone fired one. It’s incredibly awkward. In no way does she feel like a spy. It’s a shame, coming into this just after (before? as The 355 was delayed a year) The Eyes of Tammy Faye. She had such a commanding, award-worthy performance (and I tend to shy away from real-people-accolades), it hurts to see her so bad here. Not that said action sequences are good; overshot and clumsily edited, they feel from the mid-00s wannabe Bourne era. Hell, the whole thing feels lost from 2005.
It’s weird to slam The 355 (named for a female spy in the Revolutionary War; if you hadn’t read or seen Y The Last Man, the title is a non-sequitur until the last scene) for being unbearably dumb one week and laud the dumbesses of MOONFALL the previous week. It’s all in the aim. Moonfall is just the movie it was aiming to be. The 355 is meant to be a serious spy thriller and does nothing with it. Some dumb is fun, some dumb is not. The 355 is not.