Film Review – The 355
The title of The 355 (2022) represents an unidentified female spy who fought for the colonies during the American Revolution. The metaphor is not subtle, as this action thriller stars five female actors all hailing from different parts of the world. In terms of story and execution, this isn’t anything that we haven’t seen before. The rhythms and plot points will be familiar for anyone who has seen a Mission: Impossible or James Bond film. There are numerous instances where we can blurt out a surprise before it happens. However, there is just enough star power and entertainment value to lift it above its recycled elements. Seeing talented performers kicking butt and having fun goes a long way.
Director Simon Kinberg (who cowrites with Theresa Rebeck), introduces us to a host of highly efficient super spies. From America, we have Mace (Jessica Chastain). Marie (Diane Kruger) hails from Germany. Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) is British, Graciela (Penélope Cruz) is Colombian, and Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan) is Chinese. Each one works for their country’s government in different capacities. While Khadijah is the tech guru, Marie has the “shoot first, ask questions later” type of approach. Mace has an on-again-off-again relationship with fellow CIA agent Nick (Sebastian Stan), and Graciela is a therapist who would rather be home with her family than getting into shootouts. Not exactly deep character development, but it’s something.
When you have skilled agents globetrotting and getting into all kinds of mischief, there’s always a MacGuffin – the thing that everybody wants and is willing to kill for. Sometimes the MacGuffin are nuclear codes, a ticking time bomb, or simply a lot of money. This time, our protagonists are tasked with having to retrieve a hard drive containing classified technology. This information can bring down planes or cause country-wide power outages with the push of a button. Obviously, if this were to fall into the wrong hands, bad things can happen. The narrative has a repetitive structure, as our heroes track down the device to Paris, Morocco, and Shanghai, leaving a trail of baddies behind them.
The set pieces of The 355 feel oddly tame. Kinberg – whom we last saw helming X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) – tosses in scenes of gunplay, chases, and hand to hand combat, but they are chopped up to the point of incoherence. The cinematography will go from still and smooth to hectic and shaky instantaneously. In one sequence, Mace goes toe to toe with an adversary in a back room while an auction takes place next door. The two locations – despite happening simultaneously – look like they belong in different movies. In the streets of Morocco, the team tries to pick the pocket of a target. The camerawork and incessant editing don’t allow us to see anything clearly, it’s just visual chaos trying to generate energy.
In fact, the most interesting bits have nothing to do with the action at all, but in the interplay between the characters. These are high-caliber performers, and when they are given the opportunity to act with one another, that’s when things start to pick up. The love/hate dynamic between Mace and Marie make them an entertaining odd couple. Khadijah – when not hacking into a mainframe or playing lookout for the rest of the team – routinely calls her significant other to reschedule their dinner date. Cruz has the most fun as Graciela. She gets put in situations way above her paygrade and gets anxious when forced into the fray. When Graciela calls her family and has a moment of tenderness with them, Cruz plays it completely earnest, which makes the character all the more endearing.
One of the big reasons Ocean’s Eleven (2001) was so much fun was in seeing different personalities conflict and adapt with one another for a single purpose. The mission wasn’t even really the point – it was the camaraderie that was built amongst the cast. The 355 has hints of this. The back and forth between the five leads, how each of them can relate to each other despite their backgrounds, has high potential. The way they utilize their skills for a common cause works well and should have been the central highlight. Instead, the writing and direction refuses to capitalize on this opportunity. Rather, the characters are given weapons to shoot at nameless faces, setting off explosions that go “boom” very loudly. The climactic battle is just another run of the mill spectacle – a bloodless cacophony of bullets and shattered glass. We’ve seen this done better a thousand times before. It’s as though the production refuses to acknowledge the strength of its cast, making them take part in forgettable action sequences.
If the intention was to leave us wanting more, then The 355 did just that – but not entirely in a positive way. The stars carry this on their shoulders, managing to make it watchable despite its hiccups. Although the landscape has been overrun by franchises, spinoffs, and sequels, I wouldn’t mind seeing this team for another go around. A cast this capable deserved to be in something better than just “ok.” The film does what it advertises, but it leaves so much more on the table.