The 355


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The 355
"There is a solid certainty amongst its crosses and doubles and that's that it isn't very good."

Eventually The 355 explains its name, but that eventually is very near the end of its two hours and two minutes and I'll save you the time by telling you myself. Though if you're acquainted with Y: The Last Man you might recognise the code for a female agent used by the Culper ring, spies operating in and around New York during the American Revolution.

That's 'a' and possibly not 'the' because the indefinite nature of spying and its effect on the historical record mean that we've got some candidates but nothing certain. Which might do for The 355 but unfortunately there is a solid certainty amongst its crosses and doubles and that's that it isn't very good.

It's director Simon Kinberg's second feature. He's served as producer on any number of other films. Upcoming work apparently includes Deadpool 3, Logan's Run, The Running Man, and if that seems familiar, if not derivative and tired, then be sure that this is more of the same. It's co-written with Theresa Rebeck. She's got loads of TV work but of slightly more than half a dozen features what stands out is that she's one of the four culpable for 2004's Catwoman. Though there's an X-Men crossover possible too, she penned Gossip which featured James Marsden who was replaced by Tye Sheridan in Dark Phoenix, which Kinberg helmed. If that seems a bit of a stretch and not particularly interesting...

I'll briefly run through Jason Flemyng's baddie, who'd feel familiar even if you hadn't seen him in any number of other movies. He's been in an X-Men film too, plays Lord James Harwood in Batmanish prequel-thingy Pennyworth, but it's in the Viy franchise that he's had his most recurring film role. He growls, spends money, does something with short selling that seems reminiscent of the attempted financial engineering of the Daniel Craig Casino Royale, and sparks the action by trying to get a McGuffin.

That attempt is witnessed by a masked figure, member of an observing paramilitary police group, and I must confess that I was hoping that the featureless balaclava concealed one of the female cast but it's actually Edgar Ramirez. He'll be used to bring in one of the five women but we'll get to them. Apparently.

Sebastian Stan is Nick Fowler, a CIA agent tasked with recovering the device. It is a device that can access any computer system, but it's not the mysterious black box of Sneakers, they do more to explain it. It's apparently some sort of suite of systems, you can tell because it's got a special blinky circle, and among those are "parallel infinity bit encryption systems". Does that sound like some things stuck together that don't quite work? Well...

Jessica Chastain is 'Mace', Mason Brown. We meet her at CIA headquarters where she's practising martial arts. There's something about dating, if it had been Cynthia Rothrock it wouldn't have felt fresh even for 30-some years ago. Less so here. I believe she's put the effort in, she's at times retained the intensity of Zero Dark Thirty but you can barely see it. There's a chase involving Diane Kruger's Marie Schmidt (you can tell she's with German secret service because she says 'scheisse' a lot). I started counting when I realised that despite the distance covered in a failed hand-off and intercept, no shot lasted more than the count of four. Metronomic in its monotony, an absolute waste. Yet I wonder too, because having mentioned crosses and doubles I'm not actually sure if they were in the same place at the same time.

Lupita Nyong'o arrives as an MI6 cybersecurity expert who's giving a TED-style talk that doesn't bear scrutiny, and we're given a glimpse into a home life the other two don't have. One that doesn't match that of Penelope Cruz' Graciela, a psychological rather than intelligence analyst flown in to try and recover the asset by other means. She's the 'girl one', in that to her are given the bits of crying and being scared and so on. It's an absolute disservice to an actress this good, and if it weren't for everyone else of them being treated this poorly it would be an unparalleled injustice.

By the time Fan Bingbing turns up you start to hope that they had fun filming it because there doesn't seem to be much in the audience. I was minded of Ocean's 8, except I enjoyed that, and the 2016 Ghostbusters, except I enjoyed that, and to be honest it started to feel churlish to judge this against other films with mostly female casts because it should really be judged against lazy dross like the latter Expendables.

It's trying really hard. There's a bit where a vehicle drives past and the person who was behind it isn't there any more and there's an inexplicable parallel (sorry, 'proximity') auction where there are people bidding on a thing and also bidding on another thing that's hidden in it and those are two separate prices but you've got to win both. Not 'proxy', by the way - that'd almost make sense - though I must admit that the secret and public auction almost seems like it'd be an interesting board game mechanic.

There's a point where someone is described as being "boxed in from two sides" and it'd be easy meat to ask about the word flank but perhaps they're counting the scenery that some are chewing. Chastain, Kruger, Cruz, Nyong'o, Fan are all better than this. That they find a way to reverse the old revenge tropes by having some men killed isn't originality, it's turning the same tepid ham and cheese upside-down and claiming it as a new sandwich. At least a croque-madame adds an egg.

This isn't a John Wick or a Nobody. There are a few wigs but no Atomic Blonde. It's an ensemble cast but there's a fair few reaction shots to make it seem like they've perhaps spent more time together than they have, and the closest I can come to the desire to see it again is to try and figure out when it's really them and when it's stand-ins, stunt-doubles, or for all the good it seems to do any of them, a tennis ball on a light-stand.

Given how much of the film is about things being computer controlled, a lot of it comes down to old fashioned fieldwork, but in the "hard men making hard decisions" vein of 24, with its casual disregard for morality and wound hygiene, rather than anything smart or clever. Guiles on film are difficult to portray, but it's absolutely possible to do better than this. I found myself thinking about other films with primarily female casts and numerical titles and I think Nine To Five might actually have characters better at keeping secrets, and, disappointingly, better gender politics.

It's hard to countenance the extent to which some of the events it depicts (even at a distance) are taken in stride. It's harder still when some of those strides are split by scissor-happy editing. I can almost forgive the ready access to military grade transport aircraft since Nolan's Bat-trilogy did it at least twice. This though doesn't feel grounded and realistic as much as it does supine and dull.

A one-off this will hopefully remain. To be clear, for all the effort, this is not a film you should see. Three people are needed to double-cross but there might have been a benefit to adding another to this set of co-writer and director. The 355 is, if you'll indulge me in a more complex bit of code than it ever attempts, and with the benefit of clues more subtle than it conveys, 214.

Reviewed on: 20 Jan 2022
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The 355 packshot
When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, a wild card CIA agent joins forces with three international agents on a lethal mission to retrieve it, while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who's tracking their every move.

Director: Simon Kinberg

Writer: Theresa Rebeck, Simon Kinberg

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Lupita Nyong'o, Diane Kruger, Jason Flemyng, Pablo Scuda

Year: 2022

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: China, US


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