Film Review: The 355 masks its genre simplicities with a willing cast and an escapism attitude

Whilst there’s nothing remotely original about The 355, that certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of fun to be had with this slice of pure escapism fluff that manages to mask its simplicities with a willing cast and a scrappy, can-do attitude.

Outside of directing, Simon Kinberg has a rather enviable resume.  He served as a writer on such genre favourites as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Sherlock Holmes, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, and his producer credits include acclaimed titles such as The Martian, Logan, and the duo of Deadpool films.  As a director though, he’s less fortunate, having helmed the much maligned X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

It’s a mixed bag of credits, and though his sole directing stint may not inspire confidence, he seems to hone enough of a personality within the action genre that such a film as The 355, one that’s all about physical action projecting the standard narrative forward, should be enough within his wheelhouse to successfully execute.  Though the action itself is nothing we haven’t seen before in the countless other spy-centric films this opts to adopt from along the way, it’s kinetic enough to satisfy viewing eyes.  Where Kinberg needs to iron out his kinks is when the action slows down, with sequences of exposition feeling like they linger longer than they need to, breaking the momentum that a film like this needs to maintain.

Where The 355 benefits however, even when it’s continually dishing out material that feels familiar, is with its stellar (perhaps too stellar) cast.  Jessica Chastain (all too capable in such a genre) leads the charge as CIA officer Mace, a head-strong archetype, who has been tasked by her agency to make an exchange with a rogue agent (Edgar Ramirez) to retrieve a data key drive that has the ability to take down electronic access on a global scale.  It’s a not surprising macguffin, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less serious, and she and partner Nick (Sebastian Stan), both personally and professionally, hope it’ll be the simplest of jobs.

How much you want to bet nothing goes to plan?

It isn’t long before the device ends up in the wrong hands and Mace is tracking it across such exotic locales as Morocco and Shanghai, and unwillingly picking up strays along the way in the form of German Intelligence Marie (Diane Kruger), British MI6 agent Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), Colombian officer and psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz), and Chinese Security agent Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing).  With such a quintet it’s understandable to assume one or more actresses will be stung by too many cooks in the kitchen, but to the credit of Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck’s script, there’s a mostly successful ensemble mentality adhered to regarding their dynamic; only the character of Lin feels short-changed as a late introduced player, and then her appearance is marred by not-entirely-convincing green screen and CGI trickery that suggests that Fan wasn’t ever in the same room as any of the other actresses during their scenes of “interaction”.

For the film’s 124 minute running time, it rarely, if ever, travels to destinations that are surprising.  There’s a slew of double crosses throughout, there’s many set-up pieces that when broken down logically wouldn’t make a lick of sense – much of the Morocco sequence is highly implausible – and it doesn’t seem to always know when it wants to admit it has a sense of humour about itself, but when it’s so easily entertaining, do we really care about genre absurdity?

The 355, so named after the codenamed adopted by female spies during the American Revolution, should be a better film given the talent on hand – let us not forget there’s two Oscar winners and a further nominee in the lead line-up – but it’s also far from the worst thing the cast have aligned themselves to, and the oft-violent fun they’re clearly having in taking names throughout lends the film a certain infectiousness that’s hard to deny.  An easier film to like it for what it is rather than what it isn’t, Kinberg’s created enough of an escape here that undemanding audiences are likely to enjoy the global trottings of these capable, captivating women.

TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The 355 is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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