The 355 review: Not so much old-school as out-of-date

Not so much old-school as out-of-date: Clunky Mission: Impossible wannabe, The 355, lacks style, wit and much in the way of intelligence

The 355                                                                                         Cert: 12A, 2hrs 4mins

Rating:

Boiling Point                                                                                   Cert: 15, 1hr 32mins

Rating:

Munich: The Edge Of War                                                  Cert: 12A, 2hrs 3mins

Rating:

These days, when it comes to film-making, sisters are increasingly doing it for themselves, and quite right too. After decades of male dominance, the film industry was long overdue a radical rebalancing of the creative sexes. 

But, my goodness, those of us watching from the back stalls will be desperately hoping the end result is better films than The 355.

More than anything, this feels like a film that might have been made because its quintet of undeniably beauteous, ethnically diverse stars – Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz and Bingbing Fan – would look striking on the side of a bus. 

Which they certainly do.

Its quintet of undeniably beauteous stars – Jessica Chastain (above), Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz and Bingbing Fan – would look striking on the side of a bus

Its quintet of undeniably beauteous stars – Jessica Chastain (above), Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz and Bingbing Fan – would look striking on the side of a bus

But what the posters and glossy marketing disguise is the fact that this clunky Mission: Impossible wannabe lacks style, wit and much in the way of intelligence.

It’s only fair to point out that it’s directed and co-written by a man, Simon Kinberg, a highly experienced producer with The Martian, Deadpool and several X-Men films among his distinguished credits, but here directing a feature film for only the second time after X-Men: Dark Phoenix in 2019. 

That wasn’t great, but this is worse.

It’s partly the fault of the credibility-stretching premise, which sees a piece of super-hacking, computer-network-wrecking, Third World War-provoking technology fall into distinctly the wrong hands.

No wonder the world’s intelligence agencies are so intent on getting it back, and no wonder top agents from the CIA, MI6 and the German BND – Mace (Chastain), Khadijah (Nyong’o) and Marie (Kruger) respectively – soon decide that the only way they can do so is by joining forces.

Hands up anyone who thinks it could possibly be that simple?

For those worrying about the title, it’s apparently taken from the codename for an unidentified female American spy who was active during the 18th Century War of Independence.

Much more worrying is how, in the 21st Century, a man can deliver a movie that completely ignores the genre-shifting work done by female film-makers such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Emerald Fennell and still has his gussied-up, glossy-haired and always slightly unconvincing cast marching into climactic battle like a latter-day gang of Charlie’s Angels.

Not so much old-school as out- of-date.

Bang-up-to-date and shot in one single, brilliantly choreographed 90-minute take is Boiling Point, deserved winner of four British Independent Film Awards just before Christmas.

Quite how its star, Stephen Graham (above, with Vinette Robinson), was not among the winners defeats me, given that in this movie he delivers a masterclass of preparation

Quite how its star, Stephen Graham (above, with Vinette Robinson), was not among the winners defeats me, given that in this movie he delivers a masterclass of preparation

Quite how its star, Stephen Graham, was not among the winners defeats me, given that in this movie he delivers a masterclass of meticulous preparation, intense concentration and remarkable conviction.

He’s playing Andy Jones, head chef at an up-and-coming London restaurant. But when he arrives for a busy pre-Christmas shift, you can tell he’s not on his game.

He’s late, distracted by family matters and, when he does finally make it into the kitchen, discovers that a picky environmental health officer seems determined to cause trouble.

And that’s just for starters.

Thank goodness, his ever- reliable sous-chef, Carly (an excellent Vinette Robinson), is the sort to remain calm in a crisis. Well, calm-ish.

One of the clever things about Boiling Point, directed and co-written by actor and occasional film-maker Philip Barantini, is that it’s not always about Andy’s increasingly bad day.

Diverting subplots play out too and include a waitress dealing with an obnoxiously racist customer, unexpected celebrity bookings and a female maitre d’ who’s not very good at her job.

But it’s the mounting pressure on Andy that holds our attention. It would have been easy to deliver some sort of Gordon Ramsay-inspired caricature, but Graham is too good an actor to do something that lazy.

Yes, he gives Andy a short fuse, but he also makes him reasonable, at times, and apologetic too. But there are some days you just can’t win.

Highly recommended for those in search of something home-grown and different.

Munich: The Edge Of War is based on a Robert Harris novel and offers us a fictionalised version of events as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain travelled to Munich in 1938 to negotiate with Adolf Hitler and prevent war with Germany.

The main focus of the film is the fictional friendship between two young men – Hugh Legat (played by George MacKay, above, with Jeremy Irons) and Paul von Hartman

The main focus of the film is the fictional friendship between two young men – Hugh Legat (played by George MacKay, above, with Jeremy Irons) and Paul von Hartman

To be fair, the picture – directed by the German film-maker Christian Schwochow and coming to Netflix in a fortnight – does address the vexed question of whether the famous ‘peace for our time’ agreement was a craven act of appeasement or a clever delaying tactic that enabled the Allied countries to prepare for war.

But the main focus of the film is the fictional friendship between two young men – Hugh Legat (played by George MacKay) and Paul von Hartman (Jannis Niewohner) – who were friends at Oxford but eventually fell out over German politics. 

Now, six years later, with Hugh a nervous private secretary to Chamberlain and Paul on the rise in Hitler’s government, much hangs on whether their friendship can be secretly renewed.

There’s no doubt that the film looks the familiar period part, but characterisation is distinctly on the thin side, while the story is over-reliant on coincidence and clumsy plot twists.

Nevertheless, Jeremy Irons is an absolute joy as Chamberlain, a role he was surely born to play.

Class in our time, certainly. 

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