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movie review of 355

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“The 355” amasses some of the most talented and electrifying actresses in the world, then squanders them in a generic and forgettable action picture.

Jessica Chastain is among them, and she helped shepherd the film from the beginning as one of its producers. It’s easy to see what the appeal is here: A glamorous and globe-trotting spy thriller in which women get to work together, kick ass, and save the day for a change. One of the through-lines in “The 355” is the way in which these characters get out from under the oppression of condescending mansplainers and actually get things done. You don’t have to be a gorgeous secret agent to relate to that dynamic.

And yet that notion is one of so many elements in director and co-writer Simon Kinberg ’s film that feel frustratingly half-baked. There’s not much to these women besides a couple of character traits, and the moments when they might reveal something deeper or more substantial about themselves are fleeting. The muscular physicality of the action sequences—the backbone of any film like this—is unsatisfying. Shaky camerawork and quick edits obscure the choreography and effort that went into staging the elaborate chases and fight scenes, making these moments more annoying than exciting.

Even the costume design is a let-down. In Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger , and Penelope Cruz , you have four actresses of significant craft and range who also happen to be stunners capable of wearing any kind of wardrobe choice with style and grace. Except for a high-dollar auction in Shanghai, “The 355” misses the opportunity to dress these women in show-stopping ensembles as they travel from city to city, which would have heightened the sense of glittering escapism. As for the film’s fifth star, Bingbing Fan, she’s barely there until the film’s very end, although its marketing would suggest otherwise.

What they’re all after is the blandest of McGuffins in the script from Kinberg (“X-Men: Dark Phoenix”) and longtime TV writer Theresa Rebeck (“NYPD Blue,” “Smash”). It’s a flash drive containing a data key that can wreak havoc with the touch of a few keystrokes: shut down power grids and destabilize financial markets, launch nukes, and send satellites tumbling from the sky. Not that it matters what it does—it’s the thing that sets the plot in motion—but this happens to be a particularly uninspired bad-guy do-hickey. It’s so amorphous, you never truly feel the threat of its potential danger.

At the film’s start, Chastain’s hotheaded CIA operative, Mason “Mace” Brown, and her partner, Nick ( Sebastian Stan ), pose as newlyweds to meet up in Paris with the Colombian intelligence agent who has the device (an underused Edgar Ramirez ). (Chastain and Stan, who previously worked together on “ The Martian ,” are supposedly best friends who are secretly in love with each other, but they have zero chemistry.) Kruger, as bad-ass German operative Marie, intercepts it instead, leading to one of the movie’s many dizzying action sequences. Mace brings in her reluctant former MI6 pal, the brilliant hacker Khadijah (Nyong’o), to trace its location. But Cruz, as the Colombian psychologist Dr. Graciela Rivera, also gets dragged into the fray; implausibly, she was sent into the field to find Ramirez’s character and bring him home.

Eventually it becomes clear that all of these women must set aside their differences and team up to find the device: "They get this, they start World War III,” Mace says to Khadijah in one of the movie’s many, many examples of clunky exposition. But first, a fistfight between Mace and Marie involving frozen seafood, which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. And the moment in which they all stand around, screaming inane dialogue and pointing guns at each other before reaching an uneasy détente, could not be staged or shot more awkwardly.

One of the film’s most egregious sins is the way it wastes Cruz’s formidable presence and ability. She plays the frightened fish out of water, eager to get home to her husband and sons. As if her character’s inclusion weren’t contrived enough, she’s then asked to be cowering and meek, which aren’t exactly her strong suits.

And yet, there are a couple of scenes that indicate how much better “The 355” could have been. At one point, after achieving a victory, they all sit around drinking beer and swapping war stories, and the blossoming camaraderie on display makes you wish there were more of that. The idea of them rejecting their male-dominated agencies, being on their own, and having to rely on each other for survival is also intriguing—like a more violent version of “9 to 5.”

“James Bond never has to deal with real life,” Mace tells Khadijah at one point. “James Bond always ends up alone,” Khadijah responds, in an exchange that inches closer to something resembling real and relatable human experience. Somewhere in here is the seed of the idea that inspired Chastain in the first place: exploring the sacrifices women often make when they choose career over family, and chasing the tantalizing fantasy that we can have it all. But then the insistent, drum-heavy score starts up again, overwhelming everything, and it’s back to the next shootout or explosion.

Now playing in theaters.

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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Film Credits

The 355 movie poster

The 355 (2022)

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

122 minutes

Jessica Chastain as Mason 'Mace' Brown

Lupita Nyong'o as Khadijah

Penélope Cruz as Graciela

Diane Kruger as Marie

Fan Bingbing as Lin Mi Sheng

Sebastian Stan as Nick

Edgar Ramírez

Emilio Insolera as Hacker

Leo Staar as Grady

  • Simon Kinberg

Writer (story by)

  • Theresa Rebeck


  • Tim Maurice-Jones
  • John Gilbert

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The 355 Reviews

movie review of 355

The 355 left me frustrated and disappointed A great concept An excellent cast & terrible pacing, execution, & even one note characters.

Full Review | Jul 25, 2023

movie review of 355

While The 355 certainly does not bring anything electrifying to the action genre, there is something wonderful about seeing an action movie led by five women who are 38 years old or older.

movie review of 355

Here’s the 411 on The 355 — it’s a bloated bore.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Nov 2, 2022

movie review of 355

The 355 could've been a much better spy thriller under a more capable director, but the kick-ass, highly-capable female cast saves the movie and made this an enjoyable action movie.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Oct 3, 2022

movie review of 355

“The 355” won’t exactly stick with you long after seeing it, nor is it the kind of movie that will wow you with its originality and vision. But it is light and breezy entertainment that happily wears its influences on it’s sleeve.

Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Aug 16, 2022

movie review of 355

Oh-so-basic with its killer lady spies, their battle against misogyny and their quest to claim some much-needed on-screen space.

Full Review | Jun 25, 2022

movie review of 355

A rehash of countless similar films, just as mediocre or insufferable, but here male camaraderie is replaced by female complicity. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Jun 16, 2022

In this tangle of platitudes, feminist discourses, and vertiginous persecutions, the film is nothing more than a clumsy reflection of what it wants to enfranchise itself from. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | May 18, 2022

movie review of 355

Offers no great surprises. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | May 16, 2022

movie review of 355

The fact that the end product of this dream team-up is so bland and uninspired makes it feel that much more disappointing.

Full Review | Original Score: 6/10 | May 9, 2022

movie review of 355

So if most of the cast delivers, what's the problem? Clues point to Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck's script. It throws around terms like "brush pass" and "kill box," but also gives us dialogue like this: "A man must cover his tracks." "Yes he does." ...what?

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Apr 19, 2022

This film is an exercise in formula with an eye to setting up sequels, and the main reason it works as well as it does is the chemistry between the lead players.

Full Review | Apr 1, 2022

movie review of 355

Aggressively average.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Mar 26, 2022

The 355 boasts an incredible cast of powerhouse actresses from around the world, who are given a bland, formulaic script unbefitting of their talent.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/10 | Mar 25, 2022

movie review of 355

What The 355 offers up is a perfect Saturday afternoon dad movie, but instead of starring Stallone or Eastwood or Bronson, it stars five women with six Oscar nominations and two wins between them. (And was written by the creator of NBCs Smash!)

Full Review | Mar 19, 2022

movie review of 355

...the arms-length atmosphere compounded by a continuing emphasis on ineffective, lackluster set-pieces...

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Feb 26, 2022

movie review of 355

This movie might have an incredible cast, but that doesnt save it from being completely mediocre, very forgettable, and honestly, a bit dull.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Feb 23, 2022

movie review of 355

The main problem is that Kinberg, a better screenwriter and producer than director, hired award-caliber actors to play low-grade roles. It didn't work.

Full Review | Original Score: F | Feb 12, 2022

movie review of 355

Despite the amazing work of its cast, this espionage saga lacks thrills and originality. Full Review in Spanish

Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/4 | Feb 12, 2022

movie review of 355

The movie has all the potential of being unchallenging escapist entertainment, but it's all too familiar to distinguish itself.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Feb 11, 2022

The 355 Review

Meh-ssion: impossible..

Matt Fowler Avatar

The 355 premieres in theaters on Friday, Jan. 7.

Born of an idea star Jessica Chastain had while working with director Simon Kinberg on X-Men: Dark Phoenix about an all-female Mission: Impossible-style espionage team, The 355 starts off with decent energy and good intentions, but then devolves into a mess of sluggish clichés, predictable twists, and obvious arcs. And also, possibly, a (pandemic-necessitated?) green-screened Bingbing Fan. More on that later, though...

As an origin tale that clumsily lobbies for further adventures, The 355 brings together badass spies (and one psychologist) from different countries for a global squad of butt-kickers, at first all at cross-purposes, scrambling to get their hands on a dangerous piece of tech that can be weaponized to target anything that's online. For a while, mostly during the first act, the action pieces and chase sequences dazzle, enough to distract from the thin characters and emaciated dialogue. But somewhere around the movie's middle the story loses steam and the actual combining of these warriors into a functioning unit never quite rises to the occasion.

In their various ways, each of the four heroes (plus, the third act addition of the aforementioned Fan) is at a different state of their spy career. Some have no experience while others are too far gone in the game, distant and distrustful of everyone. Chastain's Mace, the CIA agent here, is just a few shades greener than Diane Kruger's German agent, Marie, as Mace still harbors hope for love, despite being burned before. Together, though, they're similarly driven and stubborn enough to be enemies at first.

The core cast -- of Chastain, Kruger (replacing Marion Cotillard, who can still be spotted in early publicity shoots), Lupita Nyong'o, and Penélope Cruz -- is solid, and Chastain makes for a stalwart, default Danny Ocean-type leader (right down to her weakness), but none of them are able to quite overcome the story's lack of wit and paucity of heart. If The 355 had few more moments of levity, or if it maybe made more of an attempt to rise above the absolute basics of the genre, the fact that each character is only given their "one thing" to care about would be easier to overlook.

From Paris to London to Morocco, the ladies' mission traverses the world, with each spot necessitating different types of tactics. Some require guns a' blazing while others call for formal wear and flirting. Chastain and Kruger get the most hand-to-hand action, and both shine as formidable fighters during strong stunt sequences, but the standout of the squad is Nyong'o, whose MI6 "gal in the chair" nicely shifts from cyber-scouring assistant to lethal field agent.

The best spy movie franchise is...

Cruz's character, sadly, feels like the most wasted element here, as the one woman in the bunch with no combat training. Not only does The 355 not take enough comedic advantage of her being the fish out of water, but the premise is hammered home so much that you expect the twist to be that she's actually a violent agent hiding her abilities. But that swerve never happens, which is a pity because it would have been the only fun twist in the entire story. And sticking with that, as the film heads into its endgame, it seems to lose most of its interest in what it started.

Sure, a lot of movies crumble at the finish, but The 355, particularly, seems to rush through a lot so it can wrap things up and spread its franchise wings. Not that what we're given as a villain is all that exciting, but everything here, past the midway point, is just treated like a stepping stone to get the characters into future installments.

Sebastian Stan and Édgar Ramírez round out the cast, playing their rather rote roles admirably. The best that can be said for them is that they feel way more vital to the film than Chinese star Bingbing Fan, who's not only a late addition to the story, but also seems like she filmed little to no scenes with the rest of the cast. And if she wasn't green-screened into the film (which it looks like), the staging sure makes it look like she was, which just from a blocking standpoint, makes this ensemble feel pretty uncoordinated.

The 355 did its first job correctly, which was to assemble a fun female cast who you'd want to see kick ass all over the world in an espionage adventure. It did not, however, deliver on its second (and arguably more important) task, which was to deliver a fresh and engaging story that fondly recalls old school while ushering in new school. Instead, it's all just underwhelming and obvious. Some of the action pieces are energetic enough to trick you into thinking there's substance to the story, but it's clear by the second act that this is an empty op.

In This Article

The 355

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‘The 355’ Review: Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, and Penélope Cruz in a Vigorous Formula Action Spy Flick

It's a generic but energized out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire thriller that mostly holds your attention.

By Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman

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The 355

It’s not usually a good idea to grade a movie on the curve of when it’s being released. But in the case of “ The 355 ,” one is tempted to make an exception and say: For a first-week-of-January thriller, it isn’t bad. Early January tends to be a dumping ground, because the prestige awards contenders are still opening wide; it’s when you’ll get a shark drama that’s too lousy to be a trashy summer movie. But “The 355” is a vigorous formula action spy flick with an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire plot that mostly holds your attention, periodically revs the senses, and gives its actors just enough to work with to put a basic feminine spin on the genre. I make a point of that because the film does too.

The heroines are a quartet of espionage veterans who come from different countries but share a certain rogue mystique. Mace ( Jessica Chastain ), who works for the CIA, is assigned to retrieve a data-key drive that can do anything (blow up a plane in midair, penetrate any closed computer system) and is therefore ripe to be stolen by an international band of criminal entrepreneurs. In Paris, where she’s supposed to pick up the drive from a Colombian mercenary (Édgar Ramirez), she’s accompanied by her long-time agent colleague, Nick ( Sebastian Stan ), who suggests that they shore up their undercover identities as honeymooning rubes by actually becoming a couple. To our surprise, Mace agrees — but thanks to the monkey wrench thrown into their plan by Marie (Diane Kruger), a rival German BND agent, the union doesn’t last.

For a while, Mace and Marie square off like the edgy renegades they are. But they’re soon joined by two fellow agents: Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), a semi-retired MI6 operative who works on the cutting edge of cyber-espionage, and Graciela (Penélope Cruz), the group’s token soft case, a Colombian DNI agent who’s really a psychologist who specializes in treating the trauma of her fellow agents.

The four join forces to hunt down the drive, a countdown-to-the-apocalypse-with-MacGuffin plot speckled with well-staged overwrought action. These ace operatives have been trained to do it all: windpipe-bashing combat, existential chases through the crowded squares of Morocco, drop-of-the-hat surveillance and, of course, flaunting an attitude of utilitarian iciness that’s a match for any male movie spy. The element that comes closest to giving the film a personality is that most of them aren’t satisfied with the lone-wolf bravado that comes of being an international woman of mystery. Their view seems to be: We’ve got the moves like Bond, but sociopathic isolation is for suckers.

As action storytelling, “The 355” is generic, over-the-top, and 20 minutes too long, kind of like a Netflix movie. But it’s the well-made version of that corporate brew. Chastain has recently been showing a lighter side; her performance in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” has an operatic playfulness, and in “The 355,” which she’s one of the producers of, you can feel the pleasure she takes in letting her hair down and biting into the role of haughty action heroine. Kruger has the moxie to play Marie as a standoffish neurotic, Nyong’o creates an unusually emotional hacker, and Cruz, as the one who’s more devoted to her family than to global realpolitik, proves the sweetest of wild cards. The less revealed about what happens to Sebastian Stan’s Nick the better, though he plays it with a baby-faced malice that’s hard to resist.

In the second half, the director, Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Dark Phoenix”), takes his heroines to Shanghai, where they have to retrieve the drive from an art auction that’s a cover for a dark-web bidding war, which makes the film feel a bit like a heist thriller. So does the arrival of Bingbing Fan as a Chinese undercover agent who joins the team. But no “Ocean’s” sequel ever had this much machine-gun battle. Kinberg pads the film out with what some might call bravura action scenes, but while they’re tightly choreographed and edited, the fact that we haven’t seen women go through these paces nearly as often as men doesn’t make the scenes any less heavy (or noisy) in their bombast. The idea, of course, is that the action is going to sell the movie. But you have to wonder: If “The 355,” named for an anonymous female agent during the time of the American Revolution, were closer to a movie like “Widows,” which it sometimes resembles, and further from an “Expendables” sequel, it might actually have been more commercial. A January movie doesn’t have to give us too much of an okay thing.

Reviewed online, Jan. 5, 2022. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 122 MIN.

  • Production: A Universal Pictures release of an SK Genre, Film Nation Entertainment, Freckle Films production. Producers: Kelly Carmichael, Jessica Chastain, Simon Kinberg. Executive producer: Richard Hewitt.
  • Crew: Director: Simon Kinberg. Screenplay: Theresa Rebeck, Simon Kinberg. Camera: Tim Maurice-Jones. Editors: John Gilbert, Lee Smith. Music: Tom Holkenborg.
  • With: Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Bingbing Fan, Jason Flemyng, Pablo Scola, Édgar Ramirez.

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The 355 review: A sleek, silly, and surprisingly fun female spy thriller

Hey, ladies.

Leah Greenblatt is the critic at large at Entertainment Weekly , covering movies, music, books, and theater. She is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, and has been writing for EW since 2004.

movie review of 355

There's a general idea in show business that January is where movies go to die, a dumpster month for studios looking to quietly burn off the cursed and broken projects still lingering in last year's outbox. The fact that The 355 has landed there twice now (it was originally scheduled for release at the start of 2021, then delayed for COVID) fits pretty neatly into that narrative: Why else would a big-budget action film starring a cadre of internationally famous actresses slink so quietly into the post-holiday wasteland? A bland marketing campaign didn't help; neither did a corny, almost comically generic trailer . So it's a nice surprise to find out that the movie (in theaters this Friday and on Peacock Feb. 25) is frequently fun and far smarter than your average January-boneyard bear — a sleek popcorn spy flick that deserves better than slow death by in-flight entertainment, though that's probably its destiny.

The story begins, purposefully or not, in a wash of testosterone: a Colombian drug lord, a malevolent-rich-guy buyer, a SWAT team swarm emerging from the jungle. Except the product for sale isn't powder; it's some of kind of dark-web data key powerful enough to take down entire city grids and make airplanes fall from the sky. (As in most movies like this, the technology is generally so advanced it might as well be a wizard wand). When the narco's smartphone-size death star lands in the hands of a scared SWAT member ( The Undoing 's Edgar Ramirez), CIA agents Mason "Mace" Brown ( Jessica Chastain ) and Nick Fowler ( Sebastian Stan ) are sent to Paris to retrieve it. Unfortunately, a German agent named Marie ( Diane Kruger ) has the same goal, and a better grasp of the French Metro system; the end-times key gets away.

In the aftermath Mace turns to an old friend, Khadijah ( Lupita Nyong'o ), a former MI6 agent now working in London as a TED-talky tech specialist. This is the kind of crime she's made for, but a second failed attempt leaves them only with fewer bullets and an extremely reluctant new field agent: Penelope Cruz 's Graciela, a staff psychologist for Colombian intelligence who would very much like to be excused from this narrative and go home to her husband and kids. Instead she's conscripted into the team, along with Marie ("the enemy of my enemy is my friend") and eventually Lin Mi Sheng (Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing), another agent with a singular gift for IT. Hot pursuits in Moroccan souks and Shanghai high-rises follow, as they are wont to do when the fate of the free world is at stake; so, inevitably, does female bonding and a not-small body count.

The script, by Simon Kinberg ( Mr. and Mrs. Smith , the X-Men franchise), who also directed, and Theresa Rebeck ( Smash ), is both ludicrous and functional: One-liners and weapons (a fist, a lamp, even an oyster shell) fly; double crosses are flipped and tripled back again. The familiar marks 355 hits — sneering, stubbled villains; glittery international set pieces; things that go boom — follow the smoothed-down grooves of a thousand other thrillers, and everyone in it is so ridiculously good-looking they probably should have called it Only 10s . But the story moves along crisply, and the stars, who have all easily been in better films, elevate the material so breezily they tend to make even the most ludicrous moments float.

Also tucked into the broad flash and fight-clubbiness of the plot are keener little character notes: Chastain's Mace kills large men with calm efficiency, but when she's confronted with high scaffolding she stops to draw a sharp breath, then skip-walks like an awkward stork (or more refreshingly, a recognizable human). And Cruz's panicked, charming Graciela, the token civilian, finds uses for her therapy skills that actually make sense; when she and Nyong'o are on screen, it's not hard to remember there are at least two Oscars in the room. (The fact that all but one of the leads is over 40, though age is never mentioned or even implied, feels radical in its own way too). Maybe January will bury The 355 , but frankly it feels like the kind of movie bleak mid-winter was made for: Starry, silly escapism with pop-feminist flare and a passport. Grade: B

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The 355 Is Proof That Women Can Make Middling Action Movies, Too

Portrait of Alison Willmore

No actor working today is haunted by the Strong Female Character the way Jessica Chastain is haunted by the Strong Female Character. You know the type — an aloof, hyper-competent exterior hiding some instance of formative trauma, and no time for anything so frivolous as romance unless it leads to betrayal or tragedy. To be a woman working as an actor is to engage in an ongoing, exhausting quest for material that’s strongly written, or at least not rife with lingering stereotypes. Chastain’s not exempt from that struggle, but the more power she’s had over the parts she chooses, the more she’s gravitated towards ones that, in their attempt to counter sexist clichés, have created a whole set of new ones. The character she plays in the lady spy drama The 355 , a project she proposed and produced, is a steely CIA agent who’s introduced cheerfully beating up a colleague at the Langley gym when a new assignment arrives. Mace is a loner whose life revolves around her job and whose only confidant is her partner and best friend Nick (Sebastian Stan), who she falls into bed with right before the supposedly easy operation they’re on goes wrong and appears to leave him dead.

I’m making this sound more dire than it actually is. The 355 isn’t a total disaster — how can it be, when its cast includes Lupita Nyong’o as Khadijah, a tech-specialist who’s formerly of MI6, and Penélope Cruz as Graciela, a psychologist working for Colombia’s DNI? But its dullness somehow feels worse than grand failure, as though its aims were only to prove that a bunch of the most famous women on Earth can come together to make an action film just as uninspired and boring as men can. The 355 was directed by X-Men: Dark Phoenix ’s Simon Kinberg, who wrote the script with Smash creator Theresa Rebeck, and he’s genuinely terrible with fight sequences, which is a real issue in a movie that has a lot of them. Set pieces are chopped to barely legible bits in an effort to disguise stunt doubles, punches look blatantly pulled, it’s frequently unclear where characters are in relation to one another during chases, and somehow these globe-trotting badasses are all made to look awkward when carrying a gun.

Kinberg’s only other directing credit is for the aimless X-Men: Dark Phoenix , in which Chastain played the villain Vuk. His utter lack of any affinity for this kind of material speaks to the movie’s conflicted aims. Despite pulling together a Fox Force Five–esque ensemble of international stars — Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing round out the international ensemble as German BND member Marie and MSS agent Lin Mi Sheng — The 355 isn’t a stylized exercise reveling in the fabulousness of its cast. Aside from some nifty suits on Nyong’o, there’s shockingly little of the sensory pleasure, much less the fun you’d get from a Bond movie. The film aims to be something closer to Bourne, with its chase sequences on stolen motorbikes and a whole middle sequence set in Morocco, but it has none of Paul Greengrass’s kinetic brilliance or, failing that, the choreography that’s made more recent films from David Leitch and Chad Stahelski so thrilling. The 355 is determinedly without thrills, though as its characters chase a tech MacGuffin that can crash planes and bring down computer systems, they do trudge through their respective bits of backstory as though it were a chore to get out of the way.

Mace contends with the loss of the only person in her life. Graciela frets about her husband and kids back home. Khadijah has a partner who actually knows about her former life in the field. Marie (Kruger) has issues surrounding the father she turned in herself as a traitor. And Lin Mi Sheng (Fan) is the kind of personality-free embodiment of Chinese power that occasionally gets popped into would-be blockbusters now despite feeling insulting to everyone involved. The script includes hoary phrasing as though it’s required: “We can do it the easy way, or we can do it the hard way,” Mace tells a suspect before she and the other women interrogate and torture him. “That’s the thing with partners — they get killed, or they kill you,” Marie intones during a lull in the non-action. None of this is as painful as the coda, when the film leans into the girlbossery that it previously mostly skirted, with Mace declaring to a foe that the identity of Agent 355, the female spy who worked for George Washington during the American Revolution, remains unknown because “someone knew her name, they just didn’t want the world to know it.” The 355 is, ultimately, a movie about how women are underappreciated in their roles of using violence to prop up their respective states, and its climax finds Mace triumphantly sending someone off to a black site after besting him by drinking her liquor straight. She’s not like the other girls, you see? Yaasss.

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The 355 Review

The 355

Producer and star Jessica Chastain and director Simon Kinberg team up here to give the world a charismatic, female-centric team of super-spies to balance all those male-led spy thrillers. You just wish the story had been as innovative as the casting, and the twists less screamingly obvious to even those without secret-agent training.

Chastain plays Mace, a CIA agent sent to retrieve the sort of crypto-doomsday device familiar from a thousand other spy capers. She and partner Nick ( Sebastian Stan ) are interrupted by the BND’s Marie ( Diane Kruger ) and the device is lost to bad actors, in the geopolitical rather than entertainment sense. Cue a globe-trotting quest, as Mace and Marie team up to stop a world war.

The 355

These spies are both fierce and fun: Mace is spiky and competent but not without her vulnerabilities, and Marie is — as she admits — a mess. Computer genius Khadijah ( Lupita Nyong'o ) is sensibly wary of returning to the field when asked to assist them, and the press-ganged Graciela ( Penélope Cruz ) is refreshingly terrified and just wants to go home to her kids.

It's all fun and games until, in its last moments, it succumbs to the increasingly common disease of sequelitis.

The film's best scenes involve these four holing up in a safe house to negotiate their boundaries and formulate a plan; it's weakest when they spout girl-power platitudes and when a deus ex China turns up to move the story forward six paces in a single bound in the final act. Not that Fan Bingbing 's Chinese agent Lin is ineffective; she just feels grafted suddenly on. And, just as women have been asking for decent roles in male-led films for decades, it would be nice to see some nuance for Stan and Edgar Ramírez here, and more surprises in their arcs.

Still, it's all fun and games until, in its last moments, this film succumbs to the increasingly common disease of sequelitis, with a coda so determined to launch a franchise that it fails to be fully satisfying now. These women are effective and fierce; leave it to audiences to decide whether we want them on another impossible mission.

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Movie Review – The 355 (2022)

April 25, 2022 by Robert Kojder

The 355 , 2022.

Directed by Simon Kinberg. Starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramírez, Sylvester Groth, Jason Flemyng, John Douglas Thompson, Jason Wong, Leo Staar, Raphael Acloque, Marta Svetek, Waleed Elgadi, Francisco Labbe, and Toby Sauerback.

When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, a wild card CIA agent joins forces with three international agents on a lethal mission to retrieve it, while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who’s tracking their every move.

The 355 is a hollow stab at female empowerment, but at least the casting department had the good sense to bring aboard a diverse and talented group of performers that almost make this work based on their no-nonsense attitude, charisma, and girl power chemistry. And while director Simon Kinberg (also writing alongside Theresa Rebeck, who conceived the story with Bek Smith) musters up a moderate amount of intrigue early on during globetrotting action sequences that work toward unifying the female agents of their respective government agencies, there is also something painfully predictable coming in the second half that comes with an unnecessary dysfunctional mess of ideas that extends the story beyond its welcome, becoming a mixture of tedious and overly convoluted (the latter is especially unforgivable considering nothing is interesting whatsoever about the villains here).

If you’re wondering what sort of nefarious master plan would see female agents of different countries tuning up in the first place, well, The 355 centers on a hard drive that falls into the hands of a mercenary (Edgar Ramirez). If you can think of something malicious, this device is probably capable of causing that destruction (shutting down planes in the sky, causing citywide powder outages, cyber hacking on a terrorism level, etc.). As for this mercenary, he’s merely looking to get rid of such power while pocketing some cash.

Meanwhile, CIA agents Mace and Nick (Jessica Chastain and Sebastian Stan, respectively) are sent on a field mission to Paris to retrieve the device. However, once they land and start making preparations in their hotel room, Nick decides this is a perfect and romantic opportunity to take their long-standing friendship to the next stage. On the one hand, there is reason to be thankful that The 355 quickly splits up this duo, putting Mace work alongside the other women brought into this dangerous fold; the only time this flick pops is when they are working together or swapping stories about how they became agents. A better movie would have kept that focus on bonding sisterhood without taking the wind out of its sails with what’s to come (technically, it’s a spoiler, but you would have never to have seen a movie before not to know what’s going to happen).

Fortunately, the other agents are magnetic presences such as a British cyber security expert capable of wrangling everyone onto the same page (Lupita Nyong’o), a German spy with trust issues played by Diane Kruger (one of the more fascinating characters as through her personal history and agency it’s evident that such a male-dominated profession has had its adverse effects when in reality her concerns are always valid), a Colombian psychologist (Penelope Cruz) that is justifiably terrified after getting roped into the conflict but naturally comes into her own as a means to protect her family, and a mysterious Chinese operator (Bingbing Fan) that’s one step ahead in the weapons race and hand-to-hand combat.

There’s one sequence where The 355 does come together as engaging espionage. It’s at a Shanghai auction house where everyone uses their distinct characteristics to obtain information on the whereabouts of the drive. In most films, these characteristics would also be their only noteworthy trait, but again, the performers imbue these characters with likability even if there’s not too much under the surface. It’s bare minimum female empowerment (at one point, a villain exclaims “how were you defeated by a bunch of girls” for crying out loud), and the action itself is a bit too choppy even if there is some fine stuntwork throughout, but the talent on-hand smooths out some of the rocky narrative. Unfortunately, there comes a point where Simon Kinberg loses control, complete with a ridiculous epilogue that even has the characters themselves mention how little sense it makes.

The result is inoffensive and instantly forgettable, only noteworthy for putting together such an impressive ensemble cast that isn’t necessarily wasted but doesn’t showcase anything exciting. However, there is potential for improvement; hopefully, a future The 355 sequel (yes, I may not think this is a good movie, but I’m not opposed to expanding on what’s here with more) digs deeper into the individual lives of these agents rather than offering glimpses of how they stand out from one another. A less silly threat inside an otherwise serious movie (that pleasantly not afraid to kill off supporting characters demonstrating the peril of the situation) also couldn’t hurt. The idea is solid; these talented women simply deserve better writing and stronger set pieces to work with.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★  / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check  here  for new reviews, follow my  Twitter  or  Letterboxd , or email me at [email protected]


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movie review of 355

  • DVD & Streaming
  • Action/Adventure , Drama , Thriller

Content Caution

Four female spies talk to a handler in an office.

In Theaters

  • January 7, 2022
  • Jessica Chastain as Mason “Mace” Browne; Lupita Nyong’o as Khadijah; Diane Kruger as Marie Schmidt; Penélope Cruz as Graciela; Bingbing Fan as Lin Mi Sheng; Sebastian Stan as Nick Fowler; Edgar Ramírez as Luis Rojas

Home Release Date

  • February 22, 2022
  • Simon Kinberg


  • Universal Pictures

Movie Review

What do you do when someone creates a hard drive capable of hacking into any computer system in the world? It can crash planes, take down entire power grids, block communication networks, you name it.

Well, sending in your top government agents to steal it seems like a reasonable expectation.

Unfortunately, it’s not just one government that wants to get its hands on the drive. It’s all of them.

The United States sends a CIA agent named Mace. She teams up with Khadijah of England’s MI6. Marie works for Germany’s secret intelligence. China is represented by Lin Mi Sheng. And psychologist Graciela was sent by Colombia (where the drive originated).

At first, there’s no love lost between this international team of female agents. But after realizing they all have the same goal—to keep the drive out of the hands of terrorists—they decide to work together.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all.

Positive Elements

The women of the 355 (a name I’ll revisit in the Conclusion) feel alone for much of the film. They’ve all faced betrayal and loss. However, by working together, they gradually discover camaraderie and kinship. Because even though they “look different and speak different,” they all have the same goal.

It goes without saying—but I’ll say it anyway—that each of these women is willing to put her own life on the line to save others and to save the world .

And it doesn’t take an espionage expert to identify The 355 ’s not-so-subtle message about female empowerment (albeit of a very violent variety, as we’ll see). As viewers, we’re invited to see men’s chauvinism and sexism as repulsive, such as one scene where one man insults another for getting “beaten by a bunch of girls.”

Someone notes that when you “live a life of lies, it’s hard to know what’s true and what isn’t.”

Spiritual Elements

Several women wear hijabs. A Muslim man states that Allah will save him before a woman points out the fallacies in his beliefs, given his recent violent actions.

Sexual Content

A couple makes out before removing clothing and climbing into bed (where we see the woman’s undergarments). Later, we see them lying in bed together, covered only by sheets in an obviously post-coital moment. A few other couples kiss. Women wear revealing dresses at a swanky auction. We see several men wrapped in towels at a bathhouse.

A married woman is forced to flirt with a man to get information out of him, though it makes her very uncomfortable. (She is later rescued from the difficult moment when one of her female friends links arms with her and suggestively says “Sorry, she’s with me.”)

Violent Content

Pretty much everyone in this movie has a gun and is willing to use it (including Graciela, though she conscientiously objects). Blood flows as people are mercilessly gunned down. The good guys seem to have a higher body count than the bad ones. But they do try to disarm rather than kill when fighting other agents.

We also see quite a bit of hand-to-hand combat (sometimes paired with knives), which starts feeling dicey when a tiny woman is thrown into furniture by a man twice her size and strength. Several people are also tackled.

Innocent bystanders get shoved aside and knocked down during several chase sequences. A man threatens to shoot into a crowd (which would undoubtedly kill many civilians) to make his point.

Several people are forced to watch their loved ones (who have been taken hostage) get shot in the head. Similarly, at one point, the women choose to hand over the drive to the bad guys to spare one of their own from watching her husband and children be murdered.

One woman repeatedly threatens to kill or maim her fellow agents. She shoots a man in his femoral artery—which would cause him to bleed out if left untreated—to get information.

Several men are blown up. A woman bites a man’s lip. Someone suggests a certain herb can be used for suicide. A man is poisoned.

Baddies demonstrate the power of the stolen disc drive by causing planes to crash. News sources call these “terrorist attacks,” and someone notes that the drive could start another world war. A woman says she accidentally killed a cow when she hit it with her car.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear a single use of the f-word as well as five uses of the s-word (and its foreign equivalents). We also hear uses of “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—,” “p-ss” and the British expletive “bloody.” God’s name is abused (once paired with “d–n”). Someone makes a crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

People drink throughout. It appears that a few women drink to wash away their pains—both literally and metaphorically. One man states he doesn’t drink while working when offered the option to do so. Someone gives a man a cigar.

Other Negative Elements

Secret agents (as well as the bad guys) lie, double-cross, steal, break into places and even commit treason.

One woman notes that she should be in therapy (though she isn’t), considering she turned her own father in for selling state secrets to the KGB. Another is repeatedly bullied into using a gun and putting herself in danger despite not being properly trained.

We hear that a man hid a phone in his anus to sneak it into a prison.

The 355 (both the film and the onscreen agency) takes its name from Agent 355, the codename of a female spy during the American Revolution. But that’s where any real-world connection with this spy flick comes to a screeching halt.

What we have in its place is a typical action thriller. And there’s plenty of violence to go around. It’s paired with some harsh (though not frequent) language and a bit of sensuality as well.

But really, the message of The 355 is weak . It wants audiences to believe that this is a type of Ocean’s Eleven meets James Bond movie, but with women . And it is. But you could have substituted any or all of these women with a male replacements, and the film wouldn’t have changed.

Maybe that’s what The 355 ’s moviemakers were aiming for here: a film that implicitly argues women can do anything men can do. But for me, at least, the things that differentiate men from women are the things that should’ve stood out to make this a good female action flick. Instead, this female-focused espionage actioner violently suggests the two genders are completely interchangeable.

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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Action violence in fantastic, fierce female spy thriller.

The 355 Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Women are strong, and they're even stronger togeth

Main characters are working for their government w

Powerful, physically fierce, skilled women from di

Long, intense action sequences involving guns, kni

Kissing. Woman unbuttons her blouse as a sexual in

A few instances of words including "a--hole," "son

Drinking throughout. Wealthy drug kingpin makes re

Parents need to know that The 355 is an action thriller centered on a formidable, diverse team of international female spies played by Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong'o, Diane Kruger, and Bingbing Fan. They're physically skilled, shrewd, brave, and untiring in their pursuit to do what's…

Positive Messages

Women are strong, and they're even stronger together.

Positive Role Models

Main characters are working for their government with the intent of serving the greater good, putting their own lives at risk so that others can go about their lives without worry. These women are shown to be tough, brave, intelligent, savvy, perseverant, and skilled at combat, and they work well as a team.

Diverse Representations

Powerful, physically fierce, skilled women from different countries/backgrounds (played by actresses who are White, Black, Spanish, and Chinese) work together to tackle a problem. They do work that's most often credited to men in the movies while, for those who have them, male domestic partners tend to the home front. The women are in control of their image and aren't sexualized. Casting defies Hollywood ageism with regard to women as action stars.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

Long, intense action sequences involving guns, knives, sticks, punches, kicks, etc. Large-scale shoot-outs with machine guns. A woman leaps across a platform right in front of a moving train. Emotionally tense hostage situation. Assassination. Explosions. Beatings. Lots of shootings, but nothing graphic or particularly bloody.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Kissing. Woman unbuttons her blouse as a sexual invitation, which leads to making out on a bed and the implication of sex.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

A few instances of words including "a--hole," "sons of bitches," "shite," and one use of "f--k you." Uses of "G-damn," "My God" and "Oh my God."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking throughout. Wealthy drug kingpin makes references to his previous activity of selling cocaine.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The 355 is an action thriller centered on a formidable, diverse team of international female spies played by Jessica Chastain , Penelope Cruz , Lupita Nyong'o , Diane Kruger , and Bingbing Fan. They're physically skilled, shrewd, brave, and untiring in their pursuit to do what's necessary to save the world from extreme danger. While each is tough and capable as a solo agent, the clear message is that women are stronger together. Each reflects the culture of her country of origin to some degree, and many languages are spoken. Frequent action violence includes highly choreographed combat moves, gunfire, punches, kicks, explosions, and stabbings. These scenes aren't graphic and don't have a huge amount of emotional impact -- but a hostage situation is far tenser and may be too much for sensitive viewers. A long-term friendship gets romantic, with kissing on a bed and the implication of sex. There's drinking throughout and reference to selling cocaine. Strong language includes "a--hole" and one use of "f--k." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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  • Parents say (2)
  • Kids say (16)

Based on 2 parent reviews

Enjoyed the strong female characters

Pg 13 action movie with great female leads, what's the story.

In THE 355, a powerful weapon is in the hands of a mercenary, and government intelligence agencies from all over the world dispatch agents to obtain it. As the situation gets increasingly more dangerous, CIA spy Mace ( Jessica Chastain ) goes rogue, teaming up with three international agents ( Penelope Cruz , Lupita Nyong'o , and Diane Kruger ) to secure the item before it falls into the wrong hands.

Is It Any Good?

This twisty, suspenseful actioner is remarkably strong, kicking over stereotypes with its team of international secret agents who are powerful and smart and could go toe to toe with James Bond . And their gender here is no big deal -- they just happen to be women, as cinematic spies like Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne just happen to be men. They're not "sexy spies" or "glamorous government assets"; they're individuals with independent strengths (technology, psychology, force, analysis) who come from different parts of the world and approach life differently. This is much more than Charlie's Angels : It's an invigorating thriller that doesn't undermine or exploit women's femininity. While the script never really gets into the rarity of an all-female spy team, the characters themselves begin to realize that their gender has made them loners in a man's world and that there's comfort in finding a community of people who've walked a similar path.

This isn't a pat, predictable journey; it has many twists and turns. But the story isn't without its holes, either. Graciela (Cruz) is a Colombian psychologist who's pulled into the retrieval despite not being trained to be in the field at any level -- something she keeps vocalizing, and asking whether she can return home. It seems like there's an obvious solution to let her be excused, and, as you might expect, civilian involvement does ultimately create a vulnerability that any of these trained operatives should have recognized. But films often ask us to overlook little common sense details so that we can enjoy a bigger story. Graciela is ultimately the fish out of water who reacts as the average viewer might, helping us appreciate the danger and gravity of the situation the team faces. As Graciela realizes that she possesses the grit and capability to take down international villains while making her own unique contribution to the team, the intent is clearly to be empowering. There's a strong message here for women: Alone, they may make headway when they fight "bad guys," but when they band together, they're unstoppable.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about the representations in The 355. Why is it important for movies to be diverse ? How is The 355 an example of positive racial, gender, and age diversity compared to other espionage films?

Do you think violence is glamorized in The 355 ? Does the impact of the violence change depending on who's involved? For instance, do you react differently to the violence when you see a man punching a woman in the face?

How do the characters in The 355 demonstrate courage and teamwork ? Why are those all important character strengths ?

What message is the film aiming to deliver? Do you think it succeeds?

What is the meaning of the title?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : January 7, 2022
  • On DVD or streaming : February 22, 2022
  • Cast : Jessica Chastain , Penelope Cruz , Lupita Nyong'o
  • Director : Simon Kinberg
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors, Black actors, Latino actors
  • Studio : Universal Pictures
  • Genre : Action/Adventure
  • Character Strengths : Courage , Teamwork
  • Run time : 124 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG-13
  • MPAA explanation : strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material
  • Last updated : November 14, 2023

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

Suggest an Update

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Diane Kruger, Jessica Chastain and Lupita Nyong'o in The 355.

The 355 review – Jessica Chastain and her spy gang just don’t add up

The combined might of Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Penélope Cruz can’t enliven this lumbering action thriller

D iane Kruger slapping Jessica Chastain across the face with a frozen fish should be funny. The scene, sadly not played for laughs, is one of many wasted opportunities in this lacklustre action thriller. Chastain’s Mace and Kruger’s Marie, along with Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) and Graciela (Penélope Cruz), are international spies who team up to retrieve a “deadly cybertool” that’s fallen into the wrong hands.

Simon Kinberg’s film feels aggressively focus-grouped for the girl-boss crowd. “James Bond never had to deal with real life,” says mother-of-two Graciela with an eye roll. Winking dialogue about how women have been erased from history is similarly crowbarred in. Kruger smoulders as a German goth with daddy issues, and the only agent with any sort of swagger; Nyong’o, resplendent in a sweater vest, plays a tech specialist. Cruz is as luminous as ever, despite the fact that her role is mostly limited to crying and holding the phone. “We need another round… or like 10!” jokes Mace. Not even a post-mission pint in Morocco can liven up the gang’s tepid chemistry.

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The 355 review: trite spy movie is shallow & entirely missable.

The 355 is an entertaining if unremarkable spy movie, with predictable story beats and mediocre action that's only somewhat saved by its strong cast.

Spy movies are no strangers to Hollywood, but  The 355  flips the script and trades in a typically male-fronted cast for an all-women team. Starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz and Fan Bingbing, The 355 follows in the trend of movies like Ocean's 8 and Atomic Blonde —  though it's not based on a preexisting franchise — by subverting cast expectations within the spy genre. The film was directed by Simon Kinberg ( Dark Phoenix ), who co-wrote the script with Theresa Rebeck ( Smash ) from a story by Rebeck and Bek Smith ( Maleficent: Mistress of Evil ). The 355 is an entertaining if unremarkable spy movie, with predictable story beats and mediocre action that's only somewhat saved by its strong cast.

The 355 follows Mace Brown (Chastain), a CIA operative tasked with retrieving a hard drive from defected Colombian DNI agent Luis (Édgar Ramirez) that could usher in the end of the world if it falls into the wrong hands. However, her operation goes awry when German BND agent Marie (Kruger) also attempts to recover the drive, which causes trouble for Mace and her partner Nick (Sebastian Stan). When the drive is stolen from Luis, Mace must team up with Marie, former MI6 agent Khadijah (Nyong'o), DNI psychologist Graciela (Cruz) and Chinese MSS agent Lin Mi Sheng (Fan) in order to get it back and prevent the global destruction it could cause.

Related:  Every Movie Coming To Theaters In January 2022

Because Hollywood has been making spy movies for many decades, it can be difficult for filmmakers to offer something completely fresh and original. Even Atomic Blonde , which was hailed as a breath of fresh air in the action genre, was compared to John Wick . With The 355 , Kinberg and Rebeck don't make much of a case for it with regards to offering something different.  The 355's main point of differentiation is that it's a women-led team, but its story could've been pulled from any number of previous spy movies, with entirely predictable twists that viewers will be able to see coming a mile away. Unfortunately, Kinberg and Rebeck offer little reason to check out The 355 .

For the film's part, however, the cast is compelling to watch. Chastain's Mace falls victim to the issue of a story's main character being the least interesting one, with her primary characteristic being that she doesn't have any personal attachments. Kruger has much more to work with as Marie, a German agent who turned in her rogue father at a young age. Similarly one note are Khadijah and Graciela, who are the opposites of Mace and Marie, both having personal attachments in the form of significant others and families, making them reluctant to get involved. Fan's character gets the least amount of screen time of the leads, leaving her with little to work with as well. But whereas the characters aren't particularly complex, the dynamic of the group is entertaining to watch as their various personalities clash or come together. Individually, they aren't very compelling, but as a group they're fun to watch.

Half the sell of any action spy movie is the action, but The 355 doesn't offer much in the way of memorable action scenes. They're serviceable, with the cast and stunt crew doing a good enough job to keep viewers watching. Because of The 355 's PG-13 rating, the movie lacks the brutality of some other entries in the genre, and with the derivative script, Kinberg's film would've benefitted from more captivating action sequences. As it stands, the action sequences are largely unexceptional, not even managing to rise above the less-than-clever script. Perhaps the most interesting thing about The 355 is its lack of gratuitous violence toward women, though the leads get into plenty of scrapes throughout the course of their mission. However, the goodwill of that lack of violence is lost through a number of contrived lines and pandering to a shallow idea of "girl boss" spies.

Ultimately, The 355 is an okay action movie that doesn't set itself apart from the pack of spy films. As a result, those interested in the cast would be fine checking it out — if they feel safe to do so in a theater or by waiting until its home release. But those who aren't intrigued by the premise or the cast would also be fine skipping this one. The 355 proves it's not enough for Hollywood to increase the number of women in a typically male-dominated genre. A compelling story, characters, and exciting action are necessary.

Next: The 355 Movie Trailer

The 355 will release in theaters on Thursday evening, January 6. It is 124 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material.

Key Release Dates

‘The 355’: Cast, trailer and everything we know about the spy movie

Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz headline ‘The 355,’ a new female-driven spy movie.

From left, Diane Kruger, Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o and Bingbing Fan in "The 355."

The slate of 2022 movies kicks off with a big, action-driven spy movie in The 355 . Featuring an all-star, female-led ensemble (and Sebastian Stan), The 355 looks to be the globe-trotting, thrill-filled experience that the movies were made for.

The female spy movie has seen a number of fun entries over the last few years, notably with the likes of Atomic Blonde featuring Charlize Theron, the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy and of course, Marvel’s Black Widow with Scarlett Johansson. Can The 355 join the ranks of these films? Here’s everything we know about The 355 .

‘The 355’ cast

The 355 certainly isn’t lacking for star power, with the movie’s central team consisting of Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Bingbing Fan. That is a stacked cast that between them have six Oscar nominations and two wins (Cruz and Nyong’o), as well as plenty of action/spy movie experience in films like Zero Dark Thirty (Chastain), Inglourious Basterds (Kruger), Black Panther (Nyong’o), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Cruz) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (Fan).

In the film, Chastain is playing CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown; Nyong’o is MI6 computer specialist Khadijah; Cruz’s Graciela is a skilled Colombian psychologist; Kruger is the German agent Marie; and Fan is Lin Mi Sheng, a mysterious woman from the Chinese government.

The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either. Outside of the main quintet, The 355 features Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ) and Edgar Ramírez ( Point Break , Jungle Cruise ). Additional cast members include Raphael Acloque, Jason Wong and Leo Staar.

‘The 355’ release date

The 355 marks the official start of the 2022 movie calendar year, as it will be released on the first Friday of 2022, Jan. 7 in both the U.S. and the U.K.

The movie is getting an exclusive theatrical release, but we already know where The 355 is going to end up when it makes its way to streaming. As a Universal Pictures movie, The 355 will first be available for home viewing on the Peacock streaming service after its 45-day exclusive run in theaters. That 45-day run would end about Feb. 21, but that would likely be the earliest that The 355 would appear on streaming or digital.

‘The 355’ plot

Before we get into the specifics of the plot, something you may be asking yourself while reading all this is what is the significance of “The 355.” Well, the title is a reference to Agent 355, the code name of the first female spy working for American forces during the Revolutionary War. These modern day spies take on that iconic number to represent their new group.

Now, as for the story. Being billed by Universal as a “hard-driving original approach to the globe-trotting espionage genre,” here is the official synopsis for The 355 :

“When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown, will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie, former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one-step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng, who is tracking their every move.

“As the action rockets around the globe from the cafes of Paris to the markets of Morocco to the opulent auction houses of Shanghai, the quartet of women will forge a tenuous loyalty that could protect the world — or get them killed.”

'The 355' reviews

Reviews are in for The 355 , but the critics aren't overly welcoming to the first movie of the 2022 calendar. What to Watch's review of The 355 calls the movie a "soulless spy thriller" that does not live up to the A-list cast that is has put together. Early consensus for The 355 isn't much better, as the movie currently scores as a 31% ("rotten") on Rotten Tomatoes and a 44 on Metacritic.

‘The 355’ director

Directing The 355 is someone who has a good bit of experience in the action/spy genre, Simon Kinberg. Kinberg broke out in Hollywood as a writer, penning scripts for Mr. & Mrs. Smith , Sherlock Holmes and multiple X-Men movies. He made his feature film directorial debut with X-Men: Dark Phoenix , which starred Jessica Chastain.

Kinberg is also sharing writing credit on The 355 with Theresa Rebeck, who came up with the original story idea.

‘The 355’ trailer

The trailer for The 355 delivers just about everything you could want in previewing an action movie — big set pieces, some awesome looking fights and some fun banter. Give the trailer for The 355 a watch for yourself below. 

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Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca , Moulin Rouge! , Silence of the Lambs , Children of Men , One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars . On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd .

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movie review of 355

‘The Idea of You' Review: Anne Hathaway Shines in Steamy, Electric Coming-of-Age Romantic Comedy

R obinne Lee's 2017 debut novel "The Idea of You" followed an almost 40-year-old woman who enters a romance with the star of a giant boyband sensation. The book was a giant hit, in no small part due to fans viewing one of the main characters as a stand-in for One Direction's Harry Styles . Now comes a movie adaptation from the director of "The Big Sick," which translates the novel while making enough changes to improve upon the source material, including a fantastic ending that puts a perfect bow on the story.

Like all rom-coms, "The Idea of You" starts with a meet-cute - and this one is pretty magical. Anne Hathaway is stellar as single mother Solène, who stumbles upon the lead singer of one of the hottest boybands on the planet, Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine) after she mixes the singer's trailer for a restroom at Coachella. The thing is, she wasn't even supposed to be there surrounded by teenagers screaming their lungs out. She should have been on a nice little solo camping trip in the woods, trying to make up for the years she lost after getting pregnant at a very young age. 

But when her idiot of an ex-husband Daniel (Reid Scott, fully embracing the douchery of the character and relishing in it) bails on taking their 16-year-old daughter Izzy (newcomer Ella Rubin, looking just like a young Hathaway circa "The Princess Diaries"), it falls on Solène to take a group of teens to see their childhood favorite band August Moon in the desert, fighting through a crowd to get to a restroom - though a fancy trailer with a shirtless pop star can also do the trick. After a couple of intense glances and a grand on-stage gesture, the two decide to explore a relationship, despite three main issues - they live in different cities, they have a 15-year age gap, and he is a superstar with an obsessed fanbase while she is just a small-time art gallery owner. It would be easy to draw comparisons to "Notting Hill," but this movie is so much more. 

For one, this is a great love story, and the dynamic between Hathaway and Galitzine is palpable. One of the smaller but brilliant details of the movie is how little we know of Hayes, at least in the beginning. He is given as much care and consideration as the female love interest usually gets in mainstream rom-coms, while providing enough hints in dialogue to know everything you need to know about him. Likewise, "The Idea of You" does a complete love story, going beyond where most movies like these end to explore the moment a magical fling becomes something more, where a little "let's see where this goes" becomes something worth fighting for, and maybe also losing. 

While the biggest selling point of "The Idea of You" is Hathaway's Solène dating a guy much younger than him, the script (by Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt) uses this as an entry point to a much larger and poignant story. Sure, there are acknowledgments about it, but the film subverts certain expectations by having Hayes act rather mature and self-aware for his age, saying what he wants and also letting Solène make decisions and recognize her freedoms. As for Solène, she does start by mostly being interested in having fun with a young, rich guy, but the movie never makes it about reliving glory or reclaiming Solène's youth. 

Instead, the biggest setback for the two is less about the age and more about Solène being the owner of a small art gallery and Hayes being a superstar. More specifically, the movie explores idol/boyband culture and how we treat their partners. "Nobody likes a happy woman," one of Soléne's friends tells her, and that is at the center of the story. The film has some poignant commentary on the hypocrisy of people ignoring men dating much younger women, but vilifying women dating younger men in the public eye - and how much this comes from the bands' fans. 

If there's one big flaw to this boyband love letter, it's that the fictional boyband August Moon is not very convincing as a superstar band. Savan Kotecha's original songs are catchy, but the actors, particularly Galitzine never manage to sing or dance the way the number one 20-something singer on the planet would. Sure, he is young and hot, but he doesn't exude the kind of larger-than-life yet relatable and down-to-earth aura that boyband members do, which ends up being a bit distracting throughout the film.

Still, it's hard to obsess over one detail when the rest of "The Idea of You" delivers on every front. It is clear Michael Showalter loves rom-coms , and he knows how to do them extremely well, embracing tropes and expected moments while also keeping things fresh and new. Where the story of a 40-year-old woman dating a kid in his lower mid-20s screams mid-life crisis, Solène's story is much more of a mid-life coming-of-age movie that is also a rom-com. 

What makes the character fascinating and unique is how she is not trying to recreate her younger years or reclaim her lost youth. Instead, Solène is just finding herself in this new stage of her life, learning what she wants, and growing into her new self. Life doesn't end on motherhood, let alone end on 40. There is still plenty of time to find yourself, find love, get a heartbreak and push yourself into more. Hathaway captures this with incredible vulnerability, but also a self-awareness and confidence in what she wants that makes Solène excel at both the comedy and drama of the story. Early on, Hayes says people don't really know him, they know the idea of him. By the end of this adaptation, we get the full picture of this romance and the two people involved.

"The Idea of You" premiered at SXSW 2024. It will stream exclusively on Prime Video beginning on May 2.

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‘The Idea of You' Review: Anne Hathaway Shines in Steamy, Electric Coming-of-Age Romantic Comedy

Review: A talk show goes horribly wrong in sly ‘Late Night With the Devil’

Two women and two men seated on a 1970s TV talk show set

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“Late Night With the Devil,” a sly, aw-shucksy chiller from sibling filmmakers Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes , is a clever reminder that the entertainment business was built on hocus-pocus. The entire industry is an illusion: actors, dialogue, costumes, sets, editing, even the magic of performers appearing on small screens with a snap, like genies summoned to amuse. Some creative giants were literally magicians. Georges Méliès, the inventor of special effects, honed his craft at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin; later, in the more cynical 1970s — this film‘s setting — Johnny Carson used his roots as the Great Carsoni to boost ratings when he collaborated with professional skeptic James Randi to sabotage the mentalist Uri Geller’s spoon-bending shenanigans on live TV.

Meanwhile in Australia, where the Cairnes brothers were raised, their country’s well-known host Don Lane also brought Randi on as a guest. But when Randi debunked the show’s regular psychic, Lane legendarily ordered Randi to bleep off. With a presto, the Cairnes have transformed Lane’s unctuous, guileless energy into “Late Night’s” Jack Delroy ( David Dastmalchian ), an eager-to-please showboat with a fatuous swoop of hair. For years, Jack has tried (and failed) to flog his New York-based talk show, “Night Owls With Jack Delroy,” to the top, even trotting out his terminally ill wife, Madeleine (Georgina Haig), for a very special episode. He peddled his own grief and still got beat by Carson.

So on Halloween 1977 — here also a holiday known as Sweeps Week — Jack and his increasingly anxious bandleader, Gus (Rhys Auteri), welcome a mystic (Fayssal Bazzi), a parapsychologist (Laura Gordon), a possibly possessed teenage girl (Ingrid Torelli) and an overbearing naysayer (Ian Bliss) to the show. The movie is presented as found footage of that broadcast from monologue ( Billy Carter jokes!) to disaster. During commercial breaks, a handheld camera wanders backstage to see the director (Christopher Kirby) bellow, “Where’s my sacrificial dagger? We’re on in 60 seconds!” As you might guess, all hell breaks loose.

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Review: Easing into a feral frenzy, Sydney Sweeney proves a hard habit to break in ‘Immaculate’

Directed by Sweeney’s longtime collaborator, Michael Mohan, this well-tooled piece of nunsploitation horror boasts a brazen, fearless commitment from its star.

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At first, we enjoy the innocence of these retro shivers. Rubber bats dangle on wires. Gus waves a red plastic pitchfork. Jack creeps around as a bedsheet ghost. But even uncostumed, Jack always wears a mask. In just a few rehearsed gestures — a finger point, a pantomimed bat swing — Dastmalchian clues us in that he’s playing a shell hollowed out by ambition. Jack is pleasant, perhaps even genuinely kind. Yet if you peeled away his blank smile, you’d just find more blankness.

The evening truly goes on the fritz when Lilly, Torelli’s young Satanist, enters in a pinafore doing an unnervingly wonderful impersonation of an ordinary schoolgirl. Torelli is a great physical comic; even in wrist restraints, she preens. You know she’s supposed to be scary, but it’s easier to target Bliss’ blowhard unbeliever, who, by design, is so obnoxious that we pray Beelzebub will drag him into the green room.

This is a pressure-cooker film, an exercise in small-budget simplicity that leans on one set and one goal: Keep ’em watching. Whatever plot there isn’t time to resolve just wafts away. The restraint encompasses even the muted rainbow stripes on the wall behind Jack’s sofa, since scientists spent the 1970s inventing new shades of brown. Between Otello Stolfo’s pinpoint production design and costume designer Steph Hooke’s wide lapels, the kitsch doesn’t tip over into cartoon. As an ominous note, the logo for “Night Owls” is a bird looming over the Twin Towers.

The movie is a lark, not a hard-hitting statement about how mass media corrupts the soul. That’s in here too, of course, but it sounds tinny. Generations have passed since preachers called television the devil’s box, and now we all know that in the ’80s, some of those moralists will make millions putting their own act on the air. When “Network’s” Howard Beale told people to turn off their TV sets, we felt complicit. When Jack Delroy does it, we’re just admiring how cinematographer Matthew Temple captures his breakdown in a marvelous tracking shot. “I don’t think that television cameras lie,” Lilly insists. Sure, but the people behind the camera do — and what terrifies us now is how little the audience resists being taken for a ride.

‘Late Night With the Devil’

Rated: R, for violent content, some gore, and language including a sexual reference Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes Playing: Starts Friday (with Thursday previews) in general release

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Laurence Fishburne’s solo show somehow needs more Laurence Fishburne

In ‘like they do in the movies,’ the actor shares anecdotes of his upbringing and rise to stardom but mixes it with too many side characters.

movie review of 355

NEW YORK — In his new solo show “Like They Do in the Movies,” acclaimed actor Laurence Fishburne promises a vulnerable evening of storytelling about his family, his purpose and the people who influenced his career. In actuality, he spends it blurring anecdotes about those creative origins with vignettes starring memorable strangers. Some stories are true, some are fiction, some dwell in the murky middle.

He performs all with the precision you’d expect of such an impeccable talent, but the double act — of pulling us into his autobiographical story and then keeping us at arm’s length — is puzzling. Most of us have already spent a lifetime watching him embody others. “Like They Do” is precious time with just him. Why waste it?

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There is nothing fantastical about the physical presentation. Scenic designer Neil Patel never adorns the blunt, oblong Perelman Performing Arts Center stage with more than a simple desk and a chair or two. Behind Fishburne, an illuminated frame — which chummily mirrors a movie theater screen — floats just above the stage floor. Aside from images of Fishburne’s ancestors, which are sometimes projected, the rigidness of it all does nothing to warm us to his story. The theatrics are reserved solely for the thespian.

Fishburne powers through the dense volume of speech like the charmster he is. He opens the show by detailing his childhood years, toggling between his mentally unstable force of a mother, Hattie, and boisterous Casanova of father, Big Fish. Their eccentricities, and perhaps a pinch of Hattie’s projected fantasies of being a performer, drive Fishburne’s involvement in the dramatic arts.

Fishburne remains spirited and tactile; we see him touching, stroking, lifting objects that aren’t actually present. He is generous with his affability, always asking the audience how we’re doing and softening any TED Talk didacticism with “Reading Rainbow” coziness. We are his friends, his family, even his “baby” for these two hours and 20 minutes. Fishburne keeps up this para-familiarity even when dipping into harder truths, most notably that he was sexually abused by Hattie as a child. Never one to keep audiences perturbed for too long, he repeatedly stopgaps staggering revelations like this with a pacifier: “More on that later.”

“More” is truly the operative word. Because these are not short spews of text Fishburne has penned for us; they are run on sentences and legato soliloquies. Mercifully, director Leonard Foglia (Fishburne’s longtime collaborator) keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, but the challenge is evident. Case in point, at the performance I attended Fishburne called out to a stage manager in the shadows for his next line more than once.

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He becomes different races and ages, adopting novel dialects and cadences like the great monologists before him: Whoopi Goldberg, John Leguizamo, Anna Deavere Smith, all of whom Fishburne thank in the show’s program. During a scene involving one of those side characters, he becomes Joseph, a man who withstands unthinkable hardship while trying to escape New Orleans for Baton Rouge during Hurricane Katrina. In real life, Fishburne was a French Quarter resident in 2005, and has fundraised for post-hurricane relief. In another scene, Fishburne becomes Marcus, an American expat in Australia who proudly owns a brothel, traffics in pleasure and marries a beautiful sex worker. In real life, one of Fishburne’s daughters, Montana, worked as a sex worker and adopted the name Chippy D for her adult films. These are lush, thoughtful portrayals, but talent is no longer something he has to prove. And presumably he has some connection to these tales, but Fishburne never makes it clear.

As the play reaches its conclusion, the real Laurence Fishburne returns to us, asking permission to delve back into the story of his parents (as if we haven’t been telepathically begging him to). As he breaks down Hattie’s mental disorder, he descends into a deep squat, and then even lower, sitting cross-legged on the stage floor. He brings us closer to eye level, no longer a Hollywood star or theater titan, but a son enraptured by memories of his complicated, impossible, formidable mother.

That initial pledge of nonstop vulnerability is not completely fulfilled, but Fishburne has poured out a bit of his heart and channeled the stories of others, exactly like he’s always done in the movies.

Like They Do in the Movies , through March 31 at Perelman Performing Arts Center in New York. Two hours and 20 minutes, with an intermission. .

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This recycled 'road house' can't capture the b-movie spirit of the original.

Justin Chang

movie review of 355

Jake Gyllenhaal is a former UFC star who becomes a bouncer in Road House. Laura Radford/Prime Video hide caption

Jake Gyllenhaal is a former UFC star who becomes a bouncer in Road House.

There's been so much conflict behind the scenes of the new Road House remake that the fighting on-screen almost pales by comparison. Last month, R. Lance Hill, a writer on the original 1989 film, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the companies behind the remake, MGM Studios and its parent, Amazon Studios. Meanwhile, Doug Liman, the director of the remake, has publicly blasted Amazon for bypassing theaters and giving the movie a streaming-only release.

I can't help but empathize with Liman. His Road House isn't a great movie by any stretch, but what pleasures it has are best experienced on a big screen in a packed house. The original Road House did decent theatrical business back in 1989, before becoming a cult classic on home video. Watching it today, you can see why: It's dumb and satisfying, a straight-no-chaser shot of sex and violence. And Patrick Swayze remains irresistible as Dalton, a strong, silent, frequently bare-chested bar bouncer who gets sucked into a crowd-pleasing maelstrom of small-town mayhem.

Jake Gyllenhaal On Throwing (And Taking) Punches: 'It's Very Primal'

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Jake gyllenhaal on throwing (and taking) punches: 'it's very primal'.

The remake, written by Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry, mostly sticks to the original template. In this version of the story, Dalton, played by Jake Gyllenhaal , is a former Ultimate Fighting Championship star who's fallen on tough times. He's run out of options when he's offered a job cooling down the riff-raff at a roadhouse in the Florida Keys. When he shows up, he teaches the other bouncers to de-escalate the violence that flares up night after night among the bar's very mean, very drunk patrons.

Even so, Gyllenhaal's Dalton feels like less of a pacifist than Swayze's, and he's not afraid to stir up trouble. At one point, a nasty biker gang shows up and starts wreaking havoc inside the roadhouse. Dalton lures them outside and gives them the chance to walk away. They mock him, clearly not knowing what they're dealing with.

This isn't the first time Gyllenhaal has played an ultra-shredded fighter, as he did in the 2015 boxing melodrama Southpaw . His Dalton is a pretty standard-issue protagonist, complete with a troubled past that haunts his dreams. But Gyllenhaal, who's always brought a touch of wild energy even to his good-guy roles, makes those demons more convincing than you'd expect.

None of the other actors are especially persuasive, except Jessica Williams as the roadhouse's tough-minded owner. As a snarling hit man who tries to take Dalton down, the Irish professional fighter Conor McGregor does make an impression, in the same way a wrecking ball makes an impression.

Probably my favorite performance is given by a hungry crocodile who makes short work of one of the more annoying members of the cast and gives the movie some authentic Florida flavor. Most of the other key characters have been recycled from the first film, from the flirty doctor who gives Dalton more than strictly medical attention to the wealthy villain who has his own designs on the roadhouse.

But for all its attempts to recapture the B-movie spirit of the original, this Road House winds up stuck somewhere in the middle, caught between unironic '80s homage and a more wised-up contemporary sensibility. In the first Road House , there was nearly as much free-flowing sex as there was violence; here, the violence has been amped up to even more bone-crunching extremes, while the sole instance of nudity is played strictly for laughs. And some of the dialogue feels too arch and knowing, like when a friendly local compares Dalton to a character in a Western.

As we've seen from his earlier movies, the best of which include The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow , Liman is a more-than-capable director of action. The bar brawls here are well choreographed and cleanly shot, and the fighting encompasses everything from intimate fisticuffs to grander-scale set-pieces.

But there's something too artificial about the action, with its often distractingly obvious CGI touch-ups. I saw Road House at a screening in a theater, and it's possible the technical flaws were magnified on the big screen in a way that they won't be on your TV. Even so, it's too bad that audiences won't get a chance to decide for themselves.

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‘Like They Do in the Movies’ Review: Laurence Fishburne Widens His Lens

In his solo show, the screen and stage star shines a light into his formative dark corners and on the people who made an impression.

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A man in a blue blazer sits on a table on a stage with a blue-colored projection behind him.

By Naveen Kumar

When Laurence Fishburne wants to get closer to audiences of his one-man show, he lowers himself into a deep squat near the lip of the stage. Hands clasped and knees spread wide, the actor — who has become an avatar of inscrutability during his half-century screen and stage career — seems to be trying to shrink himself down to life-size.

Fishburne’s indomitable presence is the muscle behind “Like They Do in the Movies,” which opened on Thursday night at the Perelman Performing Arts Center in Lower Manhattan. His vigor and gravitas are unwavering, even as Fishburne, the 62-year-old “Matrix” star, softens to reveal difficult details from his childhood and to portray others whose vulnerability made a personal impression.

Part memoir and part ethnography, the show opens with Fishburne, who played a schemer in the 2022 Broadway revival of “ American Buffalo ” and a Supreme Court justice in the 2008 one-man play “ Thurgood ,” as you’ve likely never seen him before: draped in sequins (the flowing black robes are credited to Jimi Gureje). Addressing the audience in griot fashion, Fishburne briskly sketches his early years, introducing his mother, Hattie, a charm-school matron turned abusive stage mom. Using the refrain “but more on that later,” he indicates open questions he’ll return to, including how his father fits into the picture.

These recollections have a clipped momentum, like listening to a celebrity narrate a tell-all at 1.5 speed. If the pacing makes him seem a bit guarded, it also serves a practical purpose: The production, written by Fishburne and crisply directed by Leonard Foglia, runs nearly two and half hours with an intermission. Greater economy would pack a more decisive punch, but the show rarely goes slack and Fishburne’s performance is thoroughly engrossing.

That’s especially true as he slips into the more familiar territory of playing other people, in a series of vividly drawn monologues book ended by his own reflections. The play’s title may suggest a tour through Fishburne’s own Hollywood résumé, which includes an Oscar-nominated turn as Ike Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” But here, Fishburne plays a truck packer for The New York Daily News, a Hurricane Katrina survivor and a homeless man who washes cars, among others.

Stalking Neil Patel’s sparse set — a stage with only a long table and a pair of chairs — Fishburne nimbly dons each persona with a keen and easy sensitivity. The assembly of character studies, mostly everyday New Yorker types, lacks an obvious sense of cohesiveness, though Fishburne himself emerges as the common thread.

“Like They Do in the Movies” is hard to categorize, and might have seemed like a vanity project were Fishburne not so plainly unselfconscious and willing to shine a light into his formative dark corners.

Drawing inspiration from rangy, multicharacter solo shows by Whoopi Goldberg and John Leguizamo, Fishburne spins the colorful yarns of ordinary people to position himself as an extraordinary observer. There is an organizing principle to his perspective: Every character evinces perseverance, integrity and grit; some of them articulate philosophical arguments about race, inequality and desire. The documentary-style approach is not unlike Anna Deavere Smith’s, although Fishburne’s through line is more diffuse, and his charisma as an actor is never far from the surface. (He thanks all three influences in the program.)

Fishburne has the air of wisdom of someone who, having undertaken deep self-investigation , is eager to share his findings. (The restrained undulating projections designed by Elaine J. McCarthy have a light-behind-the-eyelids feel, evoking memory and contemplation.) To the question of legacy, Fishburne seems to say: It’s not the stage and screen roles that matter, but his powers of perception — of others and of himself. It’s a skill you don’t have to be a movie star to perfect.

Like They Do in the Movies Through March 31 at the Perelman Arts Center, Manhattan; . Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.


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