Review: The powerful, diverse cast of “The 355” outshines its stale plot

The 355 cast
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

I am a big fan of action movies. On any given Saturday night, you’ll most likely find me watching (or rewatching) an action movie, and it’s probably a James Bond movie too. 

That’s why “The 355” intrigued me (also I unashamedly love Diane Kruger). It’s a spy movie, but this time featuring women. If there’s something to love about “The 355,” it’s those female characters, portrayed by an A-list cast. 

Each woman has a unique background and personality, and they don’t always follow the James Bond stereotype. 

Diane Kruger’s character, Marie, is the “classic” action hero—always acting alone, and only forming a connection when absolutely necessary but, in the end, is softened by those around her. In one poignant moment during the film, she reveals her first “job” was turning in her father. 

The 355 cast
[From left to right: Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o in “The 355”]
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jessica Chastain’s character, Mason or “Mace,” is also a classic hero type, albeit slightly different and more willing to work with others. 

Mace recruits the tech-savvy Khadijah, played by Lupita Nyong’o, to help her. Khadijah is the “I-left-this-life-but-I-love-it” type. 

Penelope Cruz’s character isn’t actually a secret agent, but rather, she is a therapist. The “citizen caught up in something more” who pulls through at the end. 

Despite these seemingly stale archetypes, each character is nuanced, well acted and well written. Each has a unique personality and their personalities simultaneously complement and act as foils for each other. 

The downfall to these characters is Fan BingBing’s character, Lin Mi Sheng, who only makes an appearance at the end of the film and I think, rather than having actual substance, is there only to appeal to the Chinese market. Although, she is a nice complement to Khadijah. 

Most importantly, though, each character speaks their native tongue. This may not seem significant, but a number of films feature characters whose first language appears to not be English, but then only speak in English even to characters who share their first language.  This undermines the power and importance of other languages and gives more power and validity to the English language.

Graciela, played by Cruz, always speaks to her family in Spanish because she is from Colombia. Marie always speaks in German to her boss (who seems to also be a kind of father figure). In fact, there is a particular tense scene which plays out entirely in German. 

I think more films, especially mainstream ones, need to incorporate this. When a character speaks entirely in English, it takes away a part of their unique identity. The fact the characters speak their native tongues makes the characters much stronger. 

It is unfortunate though that such strong characters were in a movie in which the plot is a bit stale, cliche and, at times, even absurd. 

It’s a pretty standard action film plot, albeit with more character substance. This wouldn’t be bad in and of itself, but there’s times where things don’t really make sense at all. 

At one point, the characters are forced to cliche-ly “go rogue,” and then go to China. Here they must attend a fancy party, and they are somehow able to be outfitted with tech-filled jewelry and lavish outfits despite their rogue status. 

After this moment, I remember thinking in the theater, “What the..?” It broke my suspension of disbelief and the “magic” of the moment. 

In addition, the fight scenes could use work. There’s too much of the dreaded shaky cam. I feel many action movies are guilty of doing fight scenes with shaky cam. I personally have a hard time following, and I think they come out looking more sloppy.

There’s a fight scene in which Mace and Marie fight in a freezer which had the potential to be a legendary close-quarters fight scene. Unfortunately, there’s too much shaky camera work, so it looks unpolished. 

The scene is choreographed really well, but the camera work is just not smooth enough to highlight the actresses’ skills and characters’ skills as fighters.

I really loved this movie, and it’s such a shame all that critics are talking about is it’s less-than-perfect plot. I think they’re all too used to Marvel movies which I think should be in a category all their own. 

After all, how can you compare a movie with a $40-75 million budget to ones which might have a $200 million budget, the average cost of a Marvel movie, or even to the recent James Bond which had a $250 million budget?

There is a trend, though, in Hollywood to have less funding for female-led action movies, but that’s a discussion for another day.

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