Gemma Creagh looks at female-led spy thriller The 355.
On a CIA mission in Paris, romance blossoms between Agents “Mace” Brown (Jessica Chastain) and her roguishly handsome partner Nick (Sebastian Stan) as they pretend to be newlyweds – for their cover, of course. Their steamy affair is short lived, as this seemingly simple retrieval plan goes awry due to interference from BND Agent Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger). Their contact Luis (Sebastian Stan) ends up murdered leaving a devestatingly powerful piece of technology on the cusp of falling into nefarious hands. On finding out Nick has been killed in the field, and with the CIA investigating her for treason, Mace is forced to go underground.
Very reluctantly, Mace teams up with Schmidt, as well as Dr Graciela Rivera (Penélope Cruz), a Colombian therapist accidentally caught up in the action. Mace reaches out to her retired MI6 buddy, computer expert Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), calling her back into the field for – yes, you guessed it – “one last mission”. Traveling via Berlin, Morocco, London and Shanghai this unlikely band of women need to locate the device and save the world.
Even though this film emulates some of the fun, gritty fight scenes of the Bourne series, DOP Tim Maurice-Jones pulls focus on portraying the women’s aesthetics in the most positive light possible. Despite these characters being highly skilled experts in each of their fields, and working without sleep, and pressured in severely strained situations, they are styled to unnaturally high levels of beauty at all time, perhaps indicative of the male gaze of director, Simon Kinberg.
Plot wise, The 355 dips often a toe into the convoluted via some rather predictable doublecrosses and conspiratorial plot twists. One spoiler free example is how Khadijah just happens to have fancy high-tech spy gadgets embedded into jewelry just lying around – even though she’s been out of the game for sometime. Yet, once you leave your critical thinking facilities at the popcorn stand, this is an enjoyable journey, and most other films in this genre – from Bond to Mission Impossible – would be guilty of those same sins.
In fact, if you’re playing “spy film cliche bingo” – you’ll soon find you have a full house: a doomsday superweapon, spies being forced to go off grid, opposing forces begrudgingly working together, chases through European cities, seemingly magic gizmos and gadgets, undercover black tie events, and shootouts with unnamed goons in a lavish hotel. It’s all in there. Yet there are a few elements that sets The 355 apart. The relationships between these strong and very different women have a nugget of authenticity. There’s an undeniable on-screen chemistry when performers of this caliber are teamed together, with each actor bringing a unique take to their character, be it Cruz’s warmth or Kruger’s defensiveness. Also, the fact that Khadijah calls out Mason’s whiteness impeding their surveillance in Morocco – of course, as a pale ginger in a strange hat, she’s going to stick out like a sore thumb. Also of note is the reverse fridging – as it’s the men this time who are killed off to serve as motivation for the female leads’ journeys.
If you’re looking for something simple, fun, well-paced and with just enough substance to keep you satisfied for the full two hours, The 355 is your number one.
The 355 is in cinemas from 7th January 2022.