James Jay Edwards

The 355 Has Ladies Taking the Lead

(The 355, courtesy Universal Pictures)

James Jay Edwards reviews The 355, a spy film directed by Simon Kinberg from a story by Theresa Rebeck and starring an award-winning ensemble cast. (Universal Pictures)


Agent 355 was the code name for an anonymous female spy for the colonies during the American Revolution who reportedly was the first to discover Benedict Arnold’s defection and traitorhood. It makes sense that it would be used as the name of an international alliance of female agents who are trying to save the world in the new thriller The 355.


(The 355, theatrical release poster, courtesy Universal Pictures)

The 355 is about a CIA agent named Mason “Mace” Brown (Jessica Chastain from Zero Dark Thirty) who is on the trail of a mercenary who has stolen an electronic weapon that could bring the world to its knees. The mission to retrieve the weapon is botched when Mace discovers that the CIA is not the only agency that wants the device.

So, Mace joins forces with a French operative named Marie (Diane Kruger from Inglourious Basterds), a British cyber-sleuth named Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o from Us), and a Columbia psychologist named Graciela (Penélope Cruz from Parallel Mothers) to save the world from certain doom. Oh, and a mysterious Chinese woman named Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan from X-Men: Days of Future Past) is watching their every move.


(The 355, courtesy Universal Pictures)

The catalyst for The 355 came from Chastain’s desire to do a female-led spy film along the lines of the Bond and Bourne franchises. She brought the idea to writer/director/producer Simon Kinberg, with whom she had worked on X-Men: Dark Phoenix and The Martian, who in turn approached playwright/screenwriter Theresa Rebeck (Smash, NYPD Blue) to co-write the script. And The 355 was born.


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The movie has sort of a Kill Bill meets Fox Force Five vibe to it, with each woman having their own specialty making the whole team greater than the sum of its parts. The story is a twisting and turning journey full of surprises, with enough action to satisfy even the most hardcore of frat-boy (soro-girl?) kickboxing mentalities. Chastain and Kruger particularly get to flex their movie star muscles, but the whole ensemble really gets in on the fun.

And The 355 is fun, at least for the first hour and a half. It falls apart a little bit in the third act, with coincidences and contrivances helping the film to escape the corners into which its script paints itself. But hey, who wouldn’t want to find a hidden room full of guns and explosives right before they’re about to begin their final climactic siege? Anyway, that’s how Bond or Bourne would end their movies, too—with the ass-kicking taking precedence over any goodwill that the plot might have built up. And to top it all off, there’s an epilogue that is completely unnecessary and, frankly, a little cringy.


(The 355, courtesy Universal Pictures)

But that may have been the intent. If Chastain and Kinberg set out to make a feminist espionage thriller with all the trappings of their male counterparts, mission accomplished. No one will fault The 355 for its plot devices any more than they will fault The Expendables. And also, when three of your four leads are Oscar nominees (and two are winners), your story can lean a little on your cast. The 355 rides its stars more than its script, but that’s fine. It all comes together into an entertaining (if a bit forgettable) slice of popcorn cinema.

The 355 is now playing in theaters everywhere.



Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.


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