IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 122 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
In Bogotá, Colombia, a drug lord presents criminal mastermind Elijah Clarke with a special decryption program drive that can access any digital system on Earth, but Clarke double-crosses and kills him just as the authorities raid the mansion. Amid the chaos, DNI agent Luis Rojas obtains the device. CIA operative Mason “Mace” Brown is assigned to purchase the drive from Rojas and heads to Paris with longtime partner Nick Fowler, but undercover federal agent Marie Schmidt swipes the bag holding the money. Nick is found dead and Mace’s superior Larry Marks gives her his blessing to retrieve the drive by any means. Mace travels to London to recruit MI-6 operative Khadijah Adiyeme. Meanwhile Rojas arranges to hand the drive over to Graciela Rivera, a DNI psychologist. Mace, Marie, Khadijah and Graciela soon find themselves confronting each other and, perhaps, having to be teammates when they’re all framed for the killing of Mace’s boss Larry Marks….
The 355, which owes its title to Agent 355, the codename of a female spy for the Patriots during the American Revolution, probably sounds complicated from my synopsis of the first quarter, but all you really need to know is that its four main females all find themselves being used and betrayed in a world dominated by corrupt men and have to try to save the world from a MacGuffin pinched from Sneakers. Yes, it’s another one of those films, though it’s nowhere near as blatantly sexist as some despite its theme, better expressed in Widows, of women clearing up the shit that men create. It is, though, another one of those films where we have to believe in small women frequently beating up men twice their size, and much younger ones too seeing as three of the leads are over 40. And it’s also one of those films where, for some reason, the women mostly act cold, as if Hollywood thinks that the best way to make women appear strong is to write them like they’re men. These Girl Power movies often bomb [will us men be blamed for the failure of this one again?] at the box office, so you’d think by now that Hollywood would have got the message, but then again it’s stuck in denial about many things. In any case, gender politics aside, is the movie any good otherwise? Well it has four exceptionally fine lead actresses and largely wastes them by barely giving them characters to play. It has terrible shaky camerawork during the many action scenes which makes them hard to make out and hard to enjoy. And its plot may be packed but is a compendium of familiar situations and has a highly predictable twist villain. Yet it does, in spite of all this, entertain some of the time.
Jessica Chastain’s Mace is the person that we most spend time with, introduced being sent to Paris with partner Nick, who wants there to be more between them. After brushing him off she changes her mind and sleeps with him, but then their mission goes terribly wrong and we get what are probably the two action highlights; Chastain chasing Diane Kruger into the underground and trying to find where she’s hidden while trains whizz by every now and again, and the two engaging in a brutal fight which isn’t entirely ruined by the horrible cinematography. Some more chasing and fighting later and the drive is retrieved, and we have the only genuinely warm scene in the film where the four women drink in a bar and bond, with the dialogue coming across as fairly natural for a change. But suddenly they see on the news that some planes have crashed and some cities have had major power outages, so have to go back into the field again, though Graciela has no experience in this kind of thing which could cause some problems. Director Simon Kinberg, whose first directorial effort was the lame Dark Phoenix, does ensure that the two hours speed along, even though Tom Holkenberg’s driving music score soon becomes a major irritant with its endless taiko drumming – I thought the fad for that had gone. And there’s a nice emphasis on the private lives of our heroines which pays off in surprisingly dramatic terms near the end and almost balances out some of the many poor decisions that the screenplay by Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck makes, such as seeming to build up Bingbang Fan as a strong adversary before chickening out because, let’s face it, we couldn’t really have a bad woman in the film could we? Chastain, Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o do try, but Penelope Cruz looks lost. There’s sporadic enjoyment to be had from The 355.