Sometimes great casting makes all the difference in the world. For proof, look no further than The 355. It's a serviceable spy thriller. Nothing spectacular or groundbreaking about it. The film does, however, bring together five of our best actresses, each of whom gives 100%. And guess what? That works, serving to elevate a routine screenplay and provide two hours of action-driven entertainment.
The movie centers around a MacGuffin – in this case, a device that can hack into any computer network in the world. Hold this gizmo and you can, as one character puts it, shut down big city power grids or cause planes to crash. CIA agent Mason Browne (Jessica Chastain) and her partner Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) are assigned to retrieve the thing before it falls into the wrong hands. But Mason quickly realizes that she's going to have to form an alliance with several other women to accomplish the goal. They're a German agent (Diane Kruger), an MI6 cyber-intelligence expert (Lupita Nyong'o), and a Spanish psychologist (Penelope Cruz). Bingbing Fan is also here, although to specify her role would be a spoiler.
As a spy story, The 355 is pretty basic. Mason and crew cross the globe in search of the device. Along the way, there are double-crosses, ambushes, and a “surprise” plot twist that anyone who's ever seen a spy flick will know is coming long before the film gets there. We even get the requisite scene set at a fancy gathering, where the heroes engage in fistfights and shootouts while wearing designer clothes. The movie isn't bad in that sense, it's just color-by-numbers.
Add in those five actresses, though, and you get a good time. All of them visibly do a lot of their own fight moves, which adds a layer of excitement to the action sequences. Just as importantly, they bring personalities to the characters they're playing. Chastain gives Mason a relentlessly determined personality, Kruger plays a brash, hard-charging agent, etc. In some spy movies, actors let the stunts and mayhem carry the load. The stars of The 355, on the other hand, work to create characters the audience can come to care about.
Director Simon Kinberg and co-writer Theresa Rebeck toss in personal dramas for the women, too. Most notably, Cruz's character – who, as a psychologist, is not accustomed to being in danger – goes through the mission worried something will happen to her and how that will affect her husband and children. Nothing ever gets terribly deep, yet having a sense of who these people are outside of their jobs serves to make them more than generic action heroes. A third-act plot point drives that idea home, demonstrating how everyone, even the most hardened secret agent, has a breaking point.
The 355 may not bring many new factors to the table, but giving five top actresses a chance to work together compensates for that. There is great pleasure in seeing Chastain, Kruger, Nyong'o, Cruz, and Fan collaborating onscreen. They infuse the movie with energy and enthusiasm, and that ultimately proves infectious.
out of four
The 355 is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material.. The running time is 2 hours and 2 minutes.