The only redeeming point about “The 355” is historical footnote. The title of this movie comes from American secret agent history. Agent 355 was a member of the Culper Ring, a female spy during the American Revolutionary War. No one knows who she was or even if it was only one person. That’s all you really need to know and now you don’t have to spend 124 minutes waiting for this spy thriller to get thrilling. It doesn’t.
The film does feature model-worthy actresses working far below their talent quota in an attempt to break away from Bond babe bondage with a Barbie doll template written by Theresa Rebeck and director Simon Kinberg. This story involves enough secret agencies to make you think we’re playing Scrabble:
- BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst)
- CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) is “the first line of defense for the United States.”
- DNI (Centro Nacional de Inteligencia de España)
- M16, the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service
- MSS (Ministry of State Security)
The focus of the story is Jessica Chastain’s Mason “Mace” Browne, a CIA officer, whose best friend Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) and colleague has recently been upgraded to friend with benefits. They are in Paris for a simple drop; their cover story is newlyweds in Paris.
Earlier in the movie, a drug dealer living on a grand estate 150 miles south of Bogota, Colombia, was killed while trying to sell a decryption device that can shut down networks–including entire cities. The buyer kills the drug lord, but the local law enforcement (DNI) has been monitoring the situation and swoops down and ,in the confusion, the hard drive is stolen by one of the officers, DNI agent Luis Rojas (Edgar Ramírez). Luis is now in Paris, hoping to make some money by selling the device to the CIA.
Mace and Nick go to the cafe for the drop to switch, but a BND German agent, Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), is already there and takes the bag. Mace chases Marie, while Nick goes after Luis. Mace loses Marie in the subway, but Marie ultimately doesn’t have what they are all seeking. Nick, on the other hand, doesn’t return. Mace and Nick’s supervisor, Grady Marks (Leo Staar) breaks the news to Mace that Nick was gunned down (“I ID’ed the body myself.”). Taking her off the case, he goes off the record, encouraging her to go rogue and find Nick’s killer. To do so, Mace heads to London and enlists a former M16 agent and computer research scientist Khadijah (Lupin Nyong’o).
Khadijah has been warning of the coming threat, because unlike the Cold War “now the enemy is invisible, like ghosts in a machine.” In Berlin, Marie argues to stay on the trail of Luis, but her supervisor tells her she’s good at everything but following orders. Marie has no friends and trusts no one but her supervisor.
Luis isn’t hanging out in Paris by himself. He has Graciela attempting to help him. Married and with a family that she’s left in Colombia, Graciela is a psychologist for the DNI. Luis and Graciela are pursued by Marie on one side and Mace and Khadijah on the other. In the confrontation, Luis is killed.
As this point, Fan Bingbing’s character hasn’t made an appearance. Her mysterious MSS agent, Lin Mi Sheng will briefly show her face and then not come back until an hour into this dull spy caper.
Chastain, 44, may have a Golden Globe, a SAG award along with Oscar nominations, but there’s not much acting going on here. Nyong’o, 38, has an Oscar, a Daytime Emmy, four NAACP Image Awards and two SAG Awards. Kruger, 45, a German and American actress has a Trophée Chopard from the Cannes Film Festival. Cruz, 47, has an Oscar and a BAFA. Fan, 40, has a Golden Rooster Award for Best Actress. These are talented, beautiful women and this film is obviously diversity casting, but under Kinberg’s dull direction, it’s their beauty that is showcased rather than their acting talents.
As you might expect, there will be some double agents, double-crossing and questionable loyalties and these women will be forced to work together. And to get an East Asian agent on board, this rickety railroad train of a ride will stop in Shanghai.
Kinberg and Rebeck’s script is clunky, confusing globe-trotting with motivated momentum. The dialogue has little wit and no humor. This is a dreary affair and be glad you won’t be forced to watch it. You don’t have to wait until the end, to know the meaning of the title, so skip this.
“The 355” was released by Universal Pictures in theaters only on 7 January 2022.