‘The 355’ and the fading Allure of Classic Espionage

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Simon Kinberg’s reputation in Hollywood is being in the producer’s and writer’s chairs. For a filmmaker who has spent more than a decade and a half in the industry, it’s probably a surprise that he entered 2022 with only one feature-length direction to his name. in his defence, The 355 was meant to drop in 2021, before getting pushed back a year.

Kinberg writes, directs, and produces The 355, which stars Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penelope Cruz, and Bing Bing Fan. Sebastian Stan and Jason Flemyng, also feature, as do John Douglas Thompson, and Leo Staar.

Perhaps there are Simon Kinberg sceptics out there (most likely), with regards to him as a director, and with some good reason. Kinberg’s first directorial pic was Dark Phoenix, the latest instalment in the X-Men film series, back in 2019. And that was a movie that received quite some backlash, so much so that prominent crew members reportedly had to explain to the public. But if Kinberg is hoping The 355 offers him some redemption, perhaps he shouldn’t hold his breath.

In terms of film, we seem to be an age of heightened political consciousness. The world (or at least a significant part of it) can see through some facades, and countries can’t simply posture as good guys in movies anymore, or at least without commentary. More often than not, it means little, and makes miniscule material impact, but it’s there nonetheless.

The 355, though, opts for the cliched espionage shtick. The unknown deep dark enemy, and the whole ‘agents of different nations have to join forces’ angle. Right from the trailer, the sense of cliché is obvious, and this movie very much dives into, amidst the tiniest sprinkle of self-commentary and little else.

And the cliché does run through much of the film. The dynamic of a duo that starts off with a bickering animosity and graduates into a nonchalant relationship, even though there’s no sense of a journey, just a destination. The character that cowers and panics in the beginning, but finds herself at the climax, and produces a decisive act. The plot twist that is incredibly transparent and very telegraphed, you don’t so much seem unsurprised when it happens, you’re waiting for when it will.

The 355 tries to be something of a thriller, but lacks proper jeopardy or consequence – again, this is largely due to it being cliched. This is supposed to be a film about potential Armageddon, but it never really feels like the stakes are high. That’s because we ultimately know how it ends; we’ve been here before.

To its credit, The 355 does try to up the ante in its final act. There are genuine moments of loss, moments that seem dramatic. But the fact that it’s brushed over so quickly in search of the question undermines that to a considerable extent. And while the action is quite intense, with the gunshots, and chases, and the explosions – particularly in the third act – it has nothing to make it different from your run-of-the-mill espionage action pic.

The acting is by no means bad, particularly from Lupita Nyong’o, who puts on something of a show, while the dynamic between Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger could have been worse. But the movie’s characterisation doesn’t quite match the performances, which – alongside the most basic of dialogues – speaks to a poorly written film.

If Simon Kinberg can be excused directorial mishits for this being his second pic – even though he’s been in the game for more than a while – he can’t be afforded the same grace with the writing. There’s a lot that could be said about The 355, but simply put, its shtick is old.

From Sodas and Popcorn, The 355 gets a Popcorn and Water.

Sodas Ratings

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