Director – Simon Kinberg, Screenplay – Simon Kinberg & Theresa Rebeck, Story – Theresa Rebeck, Photography – Tim Maurice-Jones, Music – Tom Holkenbeorg, Visual Effects – Goodbye Kansas Studios, Special Effects Supervisor – Michael Dawson, Production Design – Simon Elliott. Production Company – SK Genre/Freckle Films.
Jessica Chastain (Mace/Mason Browne), Penelope Cruz (Graciela Rivera), Lupita Nyong’o (Khadijah Adiyeme), Diane Kruger (Marie Schmidt), Bingbing Fan (Lin Mi Sheng), Sebastian Stan (Nick Fowler), Jason Flemyng (Elijah Clarke), Edgar Ramirez (Luis Rojas), John Douglas Thompson (Larry Marks), Sylvester Groth (Jonas Muller), Dom Dumaresq (Diego Garcia), Raphael Acloque (Abdel), Oleg Kricunova (Pyotr Khasanov), Waleed Elgadi (Yassine), Pablo Scola (Santiago), Alexander Cardona (Tomas), Francisco Labbe (Juan)
CIA agents Mason ‘Mace’ Browne and Nick Fowler are sent on an assignment to Paris to intercept the sale of a hard drive appropriated by Colombian Luis Rojas. This contains an advanced program that can break through any encryption in the world. In the midst of this, German agent Marie Schmidt snatches the package and gets away following a furious chase from Mace. Afterwards, Mace learns that Nick has been killed during the operation. With Mace placed under internal investigation, her superior recommends that she go out on her own. She recruits former MI6 cryptography expert Khadijah Adiyeme and they out in search of Rojas, only to see him shot and the drive taken during a transfer by the Colombian DNI. Mace, Khadijah, Marie and DNI psychologist Graciela Riviera all meet up and agree to cooperate to find the hard drive. Due to a tracking chip on the drive, which is keyed to Graciela’s fingerprint, they are able to track it as it passes through several hands from Marrakech to a blackmarket auction held in Shanghai. However, the journey there is filled with betrayal from their own side and unexpected reversals.
Films that create strong empowerment roles for women are all the in-thing right now. This has led to a number of works within the Action Film – in particular ensemble films such as Ocean’s Eight (2018), Charlie’s Angels (2019), Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020) and Gunpowder Milkshake (2021), while Jessica Chastain had previously appeared on her own in one of these with Ava (2020). The 355 was pushed by star Jessica Chastain as the idea of an all-female led spy movie.
Many of the abovementioned women-driven films have been disappointments, or else take the conceptually lazy route of just being gender-flipped recyclings of other stories as in Ocean’s Eight. So The 355 should be welcomed for being one original work among these. It offers up a diverse range of characters, each from different international backgrounds, and allows all of them to work together in a plot that gives all reasonable screen time. All of the characters hold up well with Jessica Chastain owning the show (which is her right given that she produces it through her own company Freckle Films). I am not going to call this a great our outstanding action or Spy Film but it did hold my attention and with sufficiently likeable and engaging characters, which is more than can be said for most Hollywood output these days.
The obvious inspiration for the film is something like the Mission: Impossible films – or perhaps more so than the Tom Cruise films something of the original Mission: Impossible (1966-73) tv series, which was actually focused around an ensemble of characters each with their own area of expertise rather than a vehicle for one star. A more recent comparison might be something akin to The Expendables films – of which we have been promised an all-female one for several years – or else The Fast and the Furious series.
That said, The 355 is never quite driven by the series of spectacular action and stunt set-pieces that the Mission: Impossible or The Fast and the Furious series’ are. Not to say that is not an element but here the action scenes are more physical and grounded. Simon Kinberg creates some solid set-pieces racing through the docklands; tracking the bag through the Marrakech marketplace; and the caper to infiltrate the Shanghai auction. Jessica Chastain manages to look incredibly hot while running in a red dress wielding a gun with silencer, pursuing Diana Kruger through the streets of Paris and down into subway tunnels.
The principal science-fictional element in the film is the use of an advanced Techno-Thriller device – a program that allows the hacking of any encryption in the world. Such a device also appeared in Sneakers (1992), one of the first techno-thriller films set around computing. The threat posed by such a device is briefly spelled out, although, as with most techno-thrillers, this is seen as little more than a McGuffin – where the struggle to obtain the device drives everything that occurs – rather than in terms of the world-changing or devastating potential of such a device.