REVIEW: ‘The 355’ is Just American Another Action Flick

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The 355 - But why tho

American action films don’t have an excellent track record for trusting actresses with fight choreography. Often it’s slowed down to a snails’ pace or filled with too many jump cuts to understand what’s going on. Outside of Birds of Prey, seeing a female-led action film put on par with their male counterparts in the film hasn’t been as common as it should be. Throw in that American directors think all action is better with a shaky cam, and I have to admit I was worried walking into The 355. That said, with a cast that features Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, and Bingbing Fan, I had hope. And for the most part, The 355 delivers on its spy action promise, by American action standards anyway.

Directed by Simon Kinberg, The 355 is written by Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck. In the film, a dangerous and top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, leading CIA agent Mace (Jessica Chastain) to strike out on her own and work outside her organization. To succeed in securing the weapon and getting revenge along the way, she joins forces with rival German agent Marie (Diane Kruger), former MI6 ally and cyber intelligence specialist Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), and psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz) on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one step ahead of the mysterious Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan). Bringing together different countries and agencies, the women work as an unwilling team learning each others’ styles, quirks, and gaining each other’s trust to finish their mission.

All in all there premise of the film is one we’ve seen before. Rogue agent assembles a team, someone is unwittingly roped in, and spy action ensues with twists and turns along the way. It’s all familiar. The only difference is that we get to see women at the center of it. But what works with this is that The 355 manages to overlay the issues the women have to deal with, being underestimated, having their emotions exploited, and the like in relation to their mission. While this all is surface level, it works, and ultimately they’re each allowed to be as flawed and as violent as their male action lead counterparts.

The violence of it all is really where The 355 surprises. With its rating, there isn’t a lot of blood despite the gunshots and stab wounds, but the film doesn’t shy away from death, whether it’s the women taking lives or collateral damage. In that way, The 355 doesn’t pull its punches even if it does speed through them with a pace that becomes almost hectic by the last acts. But in that action, the women find their footing. While some moments have a heavy editing hand and the traditional overuse of shaky cam, others shine. Whether it’s Bingbing Fan with a make-shift bow staff or Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger or Lupita Nyong’o getting up from behind the screen to take revenge, each woman got moments to shine. Even Penelope Cruz got a few moments after acclimating to a new environment and accepting her place in the group.

Each woman is incredibly capable of their action moments, and none of them are impervious to attacks against them. As a result, they get injured, get tired, and use their anger. Some of the best elements of the action sequences happen because the women are trusted to take on stunts, and the men they’re fighting aren’t treating them like they’ll break. The women show their action stripes through a mixture of gun-work and hand to hand.

Sure, The 355 has all the issues male-led spy action films made in the United States do, but ultimately it’s worth the watch. A standard action film that stays well within the lines of the genre, The 355 is made enjoyable by its cast, even if the white characters shorten the non-anglo names from Khadijah to Dij and from Graciela to Graci. While Khadijah’s nickname makes sense with Mace given their history, Graciela doesn’t know any of these women from Eve, and someone gets an easily pronounced nickname. Outside of nicknames and sharing a few beers though, a lot of the characterization is surface level. There are histories we never see and development we never really get for anyone other than Mace. And well, Mace’s character growth revolves around a man (Sebastian Stan). While the action sequences work, the connections seem superficial at best. 

Truthfully though, The 355 is an average American action flick that has all the highs of spy thrillers and all the woes that come with an action ensemble cast and a heavy hand. However, the best of the film is in the middle that offers enough excitement and intrigue to keep you in. That said, a bumpy start and weirdly paced last act keep The 355 breaking any action mold and landing right where most action films do, in the “fine” category – with a great cast to inch it out a little from the pack.

The 355 is in theaters nationwide January 7, 2022.


  • 5.5/10
    Rating - 5.5/10
5.5/10

TL;DR

Truthfully though, The 355 is an average American action flick that has all the highs of spy thrillers and all the woes that come with an action ensemble cast and a heavy hand. However, the best of the film is in the middle that offers enough excitement and intrigue to keep you in. That said, a bumpy start and weirdly paced last act keep The 355 breaking any action mold and landing right where most action films do, in the “fine” category – with a great cast to inch it out a little from the pack.

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