The 355 Movie Review: Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger stand out in this functional actioner
The 355 has all the ingredients to make a racy spy thriller, but its recipe is a tad similar to several films that have preceded it
Have you ever wondered how spies in globe-trotting action movies manage to land in different countries wearing perfect clothes and spotless make-up despite having a battalion of assassins on their tail? How do they fund their airline tickets even though their resources are snatched away? How do they manage to conceal their identities from airport security, considering they are on the radar of every intelligence agency on the planet? These are the questions that emerge every time I watch a Mission: Impossible film or, say, any spy actioner. Having seen The 355, I believe my pursuit for these answers will prolong because Theresa Rebeck’s writing trusts the audience to fill in such blanks with the knowledge we have acquired from consuming scores of other spy films. The flip side of this assumption is that we are familiar with the propensity of the entries in this genre. For instance, we know that friends turn foes, enemies eventually team up, dead characters might not be dead after all…and... you know.
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong'o, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing
Deception is pervasive in thrillers but do we, the viewers, feel deceived along with the characters like the film intends to? With The 355, the answer is negative. We foresee nearly every major plot point of this Simon Kinberg directorial with the only surprise being a calm and sober build-up towards the climactic showdown and a much more contained epilogue that follows. The climax works only on the back of a couple of shocking gunshots that raises the otherwise feeble stakes for a quick moment. Perhaps its lead-up towards the ending is the film I wish The 355 was more of: surprising, violent, subdued. What we get instead are obvious twists, generic even if engaging action sequences, and an on-your-nose narrative. The story involves a device that could lead to abomination if it falls into the wrong hands (what a ground-breaking plot!) and spies from across the world, spearheaded by Jessica Chastain’s Mace, team up to, well, save the world.
Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger (who plays a German spy named Marie) are the show stealers in this otherwise tepid thriller. Some of the film’s better parts are built around their rivalry and, if you allow me to call it, chemistry. The duo also lock horns early on in a chase sequence set in an underground train tunnel, giving us one of the very few thrilling sequences in the film that cuts to action sequences in regular, almost planned, intervals. The timing of these sequences makes you wonder whether an AI doctored the script. Both Lupita Nyong'o as Dij, a tech genius, and Penélope Cruz as the timid psychologist Gracie, get roles resourceful enough, with Dij almost doubling up as a plot device to circumvent obstacles when the team hits a roadblock. Fan Bingbing and Edgar Ramirez—both terrific actors—on the other hand, are heavily underused, but Bingbing does get one action setpiece to flaunt her muscle.
While I’m glad The 355 serves as a counterpart to male-led spy franchises, sadly, it ends up being an imitation of many films that have preceded it. It’s a start, though, and if it gets a sequel, I hope it’ll be much more refined and devoid of cliches. The film’s ending, in fact, could be read as a cynical yet practical allusion to the aftermath of the Me Too movement, where the survivors continue to bear the brunt of the actions of predators, who continue to walk free. The 355 doesn’t treat its lead characters as victims, though; it hails them as heroes. The 355 has its heart in the right place, but it needed a much tighter and more inventive script sans the cliches.