Review: Espionage team-up of ‘The 355’ fails to come together

Four women in evening dress walk together in the movie "The 355."
Penélope Cruz, left, Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o and Diane Kruger in “The 355,” co-written and directed by Simon Kinberg.
(Robert Viglasky / Universal Pictures)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

As explained in “The 355,” a female spy known to history only by her code name 355 played a pivotal role in gathering intelligence against the British during the American Revolution. The film follows an international group of contemporary female intelligence agents who unite to track down a dangerous piece of technology before it falls into the wrong hands. Directed by Simon Kinberg from a script he co-wrote with Theresa Rebeck, the movie is low-energy entertainment that feels like a letdown given the talent involved.

Jessica Chastain, also a producer on the project, plays a hard-boiled CIA agent, while Diane Kruger plays her equally tough German counterpart. Lupita Nyong’o is a former British agent reluctantly brought back in, while Penélope Cruz plays a Colombian psychologist who has never worked in the field before. Chinese star Bingbing Fan is an operative of uncertain loyalties. As the five come together for a shared goal of saving the world — “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as someone says — they find themselves on the run from various government agencies while in pursuit of violent arms dealers.


The storytelling and plotting feel pulled together from spare parts of recent “Mission: Impossible” and James Bond films, with a disavowal here and some light parkour there and multiple destabilizing double-crosses. The high-gloss sheen and glamour of those movies, with their spectacular international locales and operatic action, prove harder to replicate here. The action sequences feel a bit perfunctory and don’t provide the necessary punctuation to the rest of the story.

Four women direct their attention at a man sitting at a desk in a scene from the movie "The 355."
John Douglas Thompson meets with Penélope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o and Diane Kruger in “The 355.”
(Robert Viglasky / Universal Pictures)

The film’s most notable addition is its attempt to acknowledge that these women have, need to have, lives outside their jobs, even with an occupation like international intelligence. Chastain’s character, reprising emotional beats from the performer’s role as a CIA analyst in “Zero Dark Thirty,” has long had only her work, and the story emphasizes her isolation. In a moment that becomes the picture’s thematic centerpiece, Chastain says, “James Bond never has to deal with real life” to which Nyong’o responds, “James Bond always ends up alone.”

Cruz finds the most to latch onto, bringing an authenticity to her stress while constantly checking in with her family back home and adding a light screwball dusting when her character must awkwardly flirt to gain information. Kruger comes across as the most at ease with the picture’s action, while Nyong’o seems to be having the most fun, bringing a much-needed energetic brio to the story.

The signified cool walk-off music that leads into the end credits (and leaves the door open for a sequel) is Peaches’ song “Boys Wanna Be Her,” also the theme music to the TV show “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.” And that’s indicative of the larger problem with the movie, that everywhere it should feel risky and energizing, it instead feels familiar and a bit tired. Simply having women star in a sluggish iteration of an airport dad-novel espionage-action story is not inspiring on its own. Despite a few scattered moments, the team-up action of “The 355” never fully comes together.

‘The 355’

Rated: PG-13, for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material

Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

Playing: Starts Jan. 7 in general release