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The 355

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This Jessica Chastain-produced flick looked like it had all the ingredients to be another Ocean’s 8/Charlie’s Angels Hollywood misfire. Having personally conceived of the concept herself, Chastain enlisted Simon Kinberg as the director, who follows up his trainwreck X-Men films with this glossy femme spy thriller, writing the script alongside Theresa Rebeck.

Upon learning that a group of mercenaries has obtained an advanced piece of tech powerful enough to hack into any and every system, CIA agent Mace (Jessica Chastain) along with her colleague and close friend Nick (Sebastian Stan) set off to Paris in an attempt to retrieve it. Naturally, things don’t go to plan, and Mace heads to London in order to convince former MI6 agent and cyber-espionage expert Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o, sporting an awfully distracting British accent) to join her on the mission.

They join forces with rival German agent Marie (Diane Kruger) and Colombian psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz) before forming an unlikely alliance with Chinese MSS operative Lin Mi Sheng (Binging Fan). Their goal is to keep the cyber weapon from falling into the wrong hands.

Being one of Hollywood’s only entirely female-fronted spy films, The 355 scores points for the fact that it’s an original female-led action film and not a genderswap reboot or remake of another franchise. The film is named after Agent 355, the code name of a female spy who fought during the American Revolution whose name remains unknown, yet whose legacy endures. And the connection with the subject of the film’s title pretty much ends there.

Let down by a silly, coarse script and a spotty plot, the cast –despite everything – actually manages to pull off their roles. Penélope Cruz’s performance is impeccable, but the casting had sparked controversy since its first trailer dropped. A Spaniard playing a Colombian character who waxes lyrical about her heritage? Oddly questionable choice. Chastain defended the decision, saying that, “At the end of the day, it’s not important where the characters came from, but that they all come together to form an alliance beyond borders”. Make of that what you will.

When Mace tries to convince Khadijah to join her on the mission, she warns, “The old wars. The cold war. The war on terror. We knew who we were fighting. But now the enemy’s invisible”. Ah yes, terror. The most solid of foes. Visible. Specific. Easy to identify. Not at all nebulous and arbitrary. “You know how we started all those wars in the Middle East that cost over $8 trillion and killed over 900,000 people? We were doing a great job!” A true CIA-sanctioned torture apologia.

Maybe the real terrorists were the friends we made along the way? It’s such well-packaged, pernicious propaganda for America’s political memory and Hollywood’s incessant perpetuation of the myth of Muslim barbarism, with the added implication that “the war on terror” is over.

It’s the women’s agency and autonomy that foreground the film, their ability to get things done in corporatised “Lean-in Feminism” fashion. It’s girl power, but neoliberal wine mom girl power. True Hollywood style girl power. Considering the CIA’s involvement in historically destabilising Latin American countries, at least they refrained from making the Colombian character an agent working alongside the CIA.

It’s a morass of tropes and clichés that the genre is typically known for, but if you can turn your brain off for two hours and cast the horrifying politics and Kinberg problems aside, The 355 is a pretty enjoyable and ridiculous popcorn flick. There’s laughs to be had as it maintains a sense of humour, a high level of energy and adequately high stakes, but it’s the chemistry of the charismatic ensemble cast that effectively makes this watchable. Bless this movie’s sheer misplaced ambition.







ANTICIPATION.
Simon Kinberg doing Hollywood feminism? Stakes are low, expectations are tempered. 2

ENJOYMENT.

Harmlessly entertaining romp. 3

IN RETROSPECT.

Toss it in the girlboss pile. 2





Directed by
Simon Kinberg

Starring
Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Bingbing Fan, Sebastian Stan

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