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THE 355 (2022) review

January 7, 2022


written by: Simon Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck
produced by: Jessica Chastain, Kelly Carmichael and Simon Kinberg
directed by: Simon Kinberg
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material)
runtime: 124 min.
U.S. release date: January 7, 2022 (theaters) and February 19, 2022 (Peacock)


For his second crack and directing, Simon Kinberg is taking a break from IP fare and kick off a spy franchise with “The 355”. Kinberg teams up with Jessica Chastain (who serves as a producer), who had a bizarre role in his directorial debut, 2019’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix”, which was his second failed attempt to adapt a seminal Chris Claremont story (the bloated “X-Men: The Last Stand” from 2006) with the intention of taking a stab at an amalgam of spy genre conventions with the fate of the world as we know it at stake. With two Oscar winners and one nominee, one could understand how such a collaboration would be an optimistic endeavor for all involved. Indeed the draw is seeing what kind of dramatic espionage thrills this talented female ensemble can deliver, but unfortunately they succumb to woefully unoriginal material with poorly written dialogue and action sequences that lack the visceral dynamism needed for such a production.

The story opens in Columbia, as we see a mysterious buyer (Jason Flemyng) pull up in an SUV to what resembles a palatial drug dealer location. He is not their to seal a deal with a drug lord, however, but rather a drive the size of a smartphone that serves as “a totally untraceable master key” that is capable of compromising and destabilizing anything relying on technology…so, everything. As a product example, the seller asks the buyer to look out the window and up at the sky, as the seller’s son ticks away at a laptop the drive is plugged into, and in no time an airplane can seen exploding and hurtling to the ground. A team of nearby special ops led by DNI agent Luis (Edgar Ramirez) witness this as they surround the estate, thinking they are closing in on typical drug deal. It’s an intriguing opening, but even here as the movie starts, it feels like there is something lacking in what is presented.



The next time we see Luis, he is meeting with DNI psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz) in Paris, where he is trying to sell the device. It’s unclear how she found him or how long she’s been working with him, but it’s abundantly clear that Kinberg – who co-wrote the screenplay with Theresa Rebeck (the person responsible for Halle Berry’s “Catwoman”) – isn’t concerned with offering the audience any of these details. There’s no time for us to understand who this character is that Cruz is playing, it’s simply a moment to let the audience know, “hey, Penelope Cruz is in this!”. Who else is in Paris? Two CIA agents, Mason “Mace” Brown (Chastain) and her frequent partner, Nick (Sebastian Stan), are there because of the drive and posing as a married couple hoping to acquire the MacGuffin before it gets in the wrong hands. Also present is steely undercover BND agent Marie (Diane Kruger), who is zeroing in on the drive’s location with a honed determination. These agents inevitably merge through foot chases, gunfire melees, and betrayals, resulting in Chastain’s Mace recruiting former MI6 agent and tech genius, Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), and the pair soon put together an unlikely team together after they are unexpectedly joined by Lin (Fan BingBing), a composed Chinese MSS agent who is calmly one step ahead of everyone at every step. With their goal to avert doomsday, these women must work things out conflicts amongst each other in order to stay focused on their common goal.

Each of the female characters that compose the team in “The 355” are emotionally motivated to varying degrees and effect. These motivations are clear clichés, but the pedigree of the cast help move the material beyond its obvious machinations. They are all captivating to watch and it’s fun to see them team up in an action thriller, if only the writing was better. Chastain and Kruger are a great pair. At first their characters clash, which is fun to watch, but it’s enjoyable and entertaining to watch them navigate their characters individually and watch them come together eventually. The odd one out on this team is Cruz’s Graciela and while she does the best with what’s given to her, her character is behaves in such bizarre and confounded ways – at one point she has to flirt with a potential target in a formal environment and…she doesn’t know how? Sure, that could be a thing, but why not get at why this is? Of all the characters, she is the only one who is married with kids and is not an agent or spy, she it would make sense that she hasn’t had to flirt in a while, but come on. She could be our gateway character, yet that option just isn’t explored. There is one particularly tense and emotional scene where all the actors on the team are given the opportunity to really bring it, and, although it is a scene that incorporates more tropes of the genre, they deliver raw and real in-the-moment responses that are quiet breathtaking.



Kinberg’s handling of the action of “The 355” isn’t great, but it’s not bad. It’s clear that the reimagining of the spy genre over the years with the Bourne movies (which impacted Daniel Craig’s run as Bond), the “Misson: Impossible” series, and the kinetic action of the John Wick movies, has impacted and influenced how we take in these movies and how they are made. Kinberg has seen success as a producer, but his writing has chronically come up short, often bungling basic storylines and injecting eye-rolling dialogue. He ambitiously bounces the story around the world, stopping in Morocco and China (which allows for some great scenery and fun costume choices), like many other spy movies, but “The 355” needed to do something different and new in order to rise above the genre trappings. At this point in viewing action films and in movie-making, it’s not enough to say that a female-led action team is “different and new” in-and-of-itself, but it isn’t because we’re beyond that and we don’t need to see them mired in genre trappings. The original angle of the material needs to go beyond what gender the characters are, primarily because audiences have been so inundated with action and spy movies for so long. So, what different style or approach can be brought then? It just doesn’t seem like such questions are considered in the making of “The 355”.

No doubt, “The 355” isn’t boring and is quite energetically paced, but it’s not particularly engaging though since it’s so easy to acknowledge all these genre trappings that are blaringly apparent. Even one villain surprise is a total “of course” eye roll moment. No viewer wants to watch a movie and see where the plot is going and unfortunately it seems these types of movies where this occurs the most. The movie’s title derives from Agent 355, the codename of a female spy for the Patriots during the American Revolution. In the trailer for the movie, it seems like that’s the name Chastain’s character is going to give this team, but that never happens in the feature (for better or worse), it’s just oddly referenced in a conversation she has with Stan’s character. Ultimately, this is a star-studded action flick getting dropped in January and those who know that this is the month where movies go to die, will consider that and likely go in to “The 355” with lowered expectations. While there is nothing challenging here, there is still escapism to be embraced here and at this time in the world that can be just what is needed.


RATING: **1/2

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