Rating: 12A Cast: Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Bingbing Fan, Sebastian Stan and Jason Flemyng. Directed by Simon Kinberg. Written by Simon Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck. Length: 122mins
When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, scorned CIA agent Mace Brown (Chastain) goes off grid in an attempt to retrieve the weapon. She joins forces with former rival and German intelligence agent Marie (Kruger), her MI6 ally and computer scientist Khadijah (Nyong’o) and Colombian psychologist Graciela (Cruz) to track the weapon down, all while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Fan), who is tracking their every move.
The plot is relatively basic in the ‘spy film’ genre; a threat is established and the intelligence agencies around the world race against time to get their hands on it. Although somewhat generic, the fast pacing of the movie keeps the audiences attention, meaning the audience doesn’t sit and think too deeply into logistics or intricate details. The writing does lack surprise, the main twist isn’t difficult to see coming, and its missing any real suspense or humour. But I think it works. Audiences have such high expectations in this genre and of course it will be compared to the well established, male led franchises like James Bond, Mission Impossible or Jason Bourne, but I think it’s our job as audiences to try to avoid such comparisons. Not to say that it shouldn’t be scrutinised to the same level – we have expectations and a desire for those to be met, but I think it’s an obvious concept that a female led movie in a genre that is dominated by male leads should be different. Celebrating the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, as you would expect in any other film, depending on who they are and how their stories unfold.
While the character relationship development is perhaps a little clunky, particularly between Mace and Marie, the group forms with an interesting chemistry. The writers do manage to avoid some of the cliches one might expect to see; our group doesn’t become really close, really quickly, they don’t all use their appearances to get what they want (apart from one of the characters, once…but even then it’s not a massive plot point). The focus relies on the concept of five, highly trained individuals who are going after their mission. The writing also allows our leading ladies, to retain their own sense of feminimity throughout, without changing for the sake of making any of it’s audience ‘feel better’, they are strong, they are determined, they are skilled, they have vulnerabilities and they are human. It makes it work.
It’s been said that the cast are ‘wasted’ in The 355, and yes, I can understand that the acting abilities of the cast were not stretched to reach the full potential of their skill, but the work didn’t need it. Chastain’s character goes through real emotional turmoil throughout and she rides it with just the right level of drive, Kruger brings a real strength and passion to Marie, while Cruz doesn’t push too hard for her character to be anything other than it’s written to bes. Nyong’o and Fan play roles who are somewhat more mysterious with their past experiences hinted at but not really explored. All of the women are generous in their performances, none demand focus and quite frankly having 5 leading ladies in an action movie who are all aged between 38-48 is something I would like to see more of.
Unfortunately, I’ve already seen some folk turn their nose up and not being willing to watch the film purely because it features “women playing mens roles” (not my words, but a quote from a moviegoer who didn’t buy a ticket for this particular feature…), which is really sad to me. It’s a thoroughly entertaining film that isn’t trying to push any agenda and it’s really worth a watch. While not a perfect movie it had everything that I wanted from a film in the action/spy genre.