“The 355” is a glamorous, worldwide spy movie starring women who save the day for a change. While this movie has great potential, it reeks of borrowed plotlines from every other spy movie created.
The half-baked plot began with the discovery of a device that could hack into any database and take it over. Planes and nuclear devices at the mercy of the hacker, the threat of World War III is in the balance. However, a Colombian intelligence agent intercepts it and travels to France to turn it over to the CIA.
CIA agents Mace, played by Jessica Chastain, and her partner Nick, played by Sebastian Stan, rendezvous with the Colombian to retrieve the device, but they are interrupted by German intelligence agent Marie Schmidt, played by Diane Kruger, who takes it from them. Mace then brings in retired MI6 hacker Khadijah, played by Lupita Nyong’o, to track the device down, and Columbian psychologist Dr. Rivera, played by Penélope Cruz, somehow also gets dragged into the mix.
After the all-too obvious betrayal of Nick, the four women decide to team up. After taking out mercenaries in Morocco, the women end up at a black-market auction in Shanghai where a mysterious Chinese woman (Fan Bingbing) helps them escape with the drive. Furious, Nick captures the loved ones of the women, and they agree to hand over the device in return for their families. After discovering the enemy’s location, the team plans one last-ditch effort to destroy the device. At the end of a confusing skirmish, the device ends up smashed under the foot of Mace and they manage to escape with their lives.
With a cast as talented as this, one would expect a more well-done movie. But all the talent in the world cannot correct bad writing and camerawork. The plot was written such that the movie could have been over within five minutes. Everyone knew the device would end up broken and many opportunities throughout the movie allowed for it to happen. However, the script forcefully refused that action from occurring until two hours later, much to the chagrin of any viewer who appreciates a semi-decent plotline.
Another failure of the writers was the utter lack of creativity compared to any other spy movie created. Backstabbed by a partner, loved ones held hostage, an easy fix prevented from happening and a hero shot at the pinnacle of victory. In all honesty, one could watch the trailer and be able to understand the plot of the film about as well as someone who sat through all 124 minutes of it.
That being said, the movie did have a few redeeming qualities that should not be overlooked. The film did an excellent job at naturally inserting cultural contexts and differences, which is crucial when you have a multi-ethnic cast. For example, Dr. Rivera, the Columbian psychologist, is shown dipping in and out of Spanish as she talks with her children and husband. You also see her strong emphasis on family, which is a staple in collectivist cultures like Columbia. However, it also means that stereotypes are also used in how the German agent, Marie, is shown as an emotionless being. Overall, I loved the blend and celebration of the cultures shown in the movie: American, British, African, German, Chinese, Columbian, French and Moroccan.
My favorite part of the movie, which I wish they could have integrated more, is how it explores the sacrifices women must make when they choose career over family. There is an ongoing question if the women can have both or if they must choose, which is fascinating to watch how they deal with it.
There is also this subliminal dialogue discussing about how important women are often erased from history, hence the name 355. Throughout the film, they consistently undermine the male authority which seeks to silence them.
At the end of the day, while the movie has a few redeeming qualities, there are other spy movies done better and there are other movies grappling with the female experience done much better. Great casts can only do so much when the writing is poor.