Release Date(s)2022 (February 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
The 355 was writer/director Simon Kinberg’s attempt to create a female-led espionage thriller in the mold of Mission: Impossible. The idea actually came from lead actor Jessica Chastain, who proposed it to Kinberg while they were working together on X-Men: Dark Phoenix in 2014. (Chastain also served as producer for the collaboration.) Kinberg has had a fairly successful career as a writer and a producer, but his directorial efforts haven’t fared as well, especially considering the external obstacles that they faced. Dark Phoenix partly fell victim to the purge at Fox after Disney acquired the studio, and The 355 faced something even more powerful than Disney: a global pandemic. The film was announced in 2018, went into production in 2019, and was finished under COVID-19 protocols in 2020. The plan was to release it in January of 2021, but that got pushed back to January of 2022 instead, and it sank even more quickly at the box office than Dark Phoenix had.
The script by Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck doesn’t break any new ground for the genre; it just offers a thin framework on which to hang what is essentially a buddy-spy story. Mace (Chastain), Marie (Diane Kruger), and Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) are operatives from different agencies who are forced to team up with an outsider (Penelope Cruz) in pursuit of a MacGuffin that threatens the safety of the world. Predictable twists and double crosses ensue. The 355 also stars Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramirez, Bingbing Fan, and Jason Flemyng.
The 355 is filled with quick cutting and unstable camerawork, which doesn't lend the kind of energy to the proceedings that Kinberg apparently thinks that it does. The one time that it works perfectly is during a scene when the lights go out and there are stroboscopic flashes of images that are intentionally confusing and chaotic. For the majority of the rest of the film, that chaotic camerawork is a hindrance, especially since it wastes the efforts that the actors put into the action. Chastain performed some of her own stunts, but the way that things are shot and edited, she really didn’t need to bother, since you can’t easily tell that it’s her. The staging and cutting also creates confusion during suspense scenes like the cat and mouse pursuit through the streets of Marrakesh, where there’s no clear sense of geography. There are modern filmmakers who have proved that you can violate the classical rules of screen direction while remaining comprehensible, but Kinberg isn’t one of them.
Despite those flaws, The 355 isn't necessarily a bad film, but it is a bland and unimaginative one, which is disappointing when you have this much talent in front of the camera. Many great films have achieved a lot with very little, but Kinberg managed to do the opposite—he took an embarrassment of riches with this cast, and did little of interest with them. The 355 is still worth watching, but it requires realistic expectations in order to appreciate it.
Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones captured The 355 digitally in the ARRIRAW format at 3.4K and 4.5K resolutions, using ARRI Alexa LF, Alexa Mini, Alexa SXT, and Sony A7S cameras, with ARRI Signature Prime, Zeiss Ultra Prime, and Angenieux Optimo lenses. There’s no indication of what resolution the final Digital Intermediate was finished at, but given the abundance of CGI used throughout the film, it may have been 2K. Even so, it’s still disappointing that Universal didn’t see fit to offer a 4K Ultra HD version, though this Blu-ray is no slouch. In fact, it’s a near-reference quality transfer for the format. Everything is razor sharp and detailed, at least during the moments where the camera sits still and behaves itself. The contrast is strong, aided by the use of the typical modern-day orange/teal color palette, with deep blacks. An HDR grade could have improved the range of colors and the contrast, especially during the colorful sequences set in Shanghai, but this is still a gorgeous representation of a mediocre film.
Primary audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The 355 was released theatrically in Dolby Atmos, so once again, it’s disappointing that there’s no UHD available from Universal, which follows the unfortunate practice of only including Atmos or DTS:X on its UHDs. (There’s a German edition available from Leonine films, which appears to have Atmos tracks on it.) Still, there’s nothing wrong with a well-done 5.1 mix, and this one is very satisfying, especially when run through the Dolby or DTS upmixers to make use of the extra channels in an Atmos-capable system. The surrounds are very active, especially during the action sequences, and the bass springs to life at key moments as well. Junkie XL’s music does its best to give the film the kind of propulsive energy that the camerawork is lacking, and it sounds fantastic here. Additional audio options include French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Descriptive Video Service, with English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Universal’s Blu-ray release of The 355 is a 2-Disc set that includes a DVD, a slipcover, and a Digital code on a paper insert. The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Deleted Scenes (6:20)
- Chasing Through Paris (4:58)
- Action That Hurts (5:27)
- Reconstructing Marrakesh (5:34)
- Chaos at the City of Dreams (3:51)
- VFX Breakdowns: Part 1 (2:12)
- VFX Breakdowns: Part 2 (2:45)
This is all fairly standard EPK material, with no real depth to any of it. The Deleted Scenes consist primarily of a single scene that expands on what happens at the hotel between Penelope Cruz and Edgar Ramirez, followed by a brief and superfluous scene extension from later in the film. Chasing Through Paris focuses on the extended foot and motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris; Action That Hurts shows the stunt work during the scenes at the shipyard; Reconstructing Marrakesh examines the detailed set that was constructed for the scenes set in Marrakesh; and Chaos at the City of Dreams focuses on the pyrotechnic efforts during the Shanghai sequence. The VFX Breakdowns show how many shots were layered in post-production, and while some explanatory narration or text would have been nice, this is still an interesting demonstration of how CGI is prevalent in ways that aren’t always immediately obvious.
Universal definitely dropped the ball by not releasing The 355 on UHD, though considering the way the film crashed and burned at the box office, it’s not surprising. The Blu-ray format still has plenty of life left in it, and while The 355 may not be a great film, it’s a prime example of just how good Blu-rays can look and sound.
- Stephen Bjork