Tag Archives: Diane Kruger

Review: “The 355”

Year: 2022
Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes
Director: Simon Kinberg
Writers: Theresa Rebeck, Simon Kinberg
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Bingbing Fan, Sebastian Stan
By Valerie Kalfrin

Watching “The 355” is an exercise in wondering what might have been. Named after America’s first female spy, the film assembles an impressive team of talented women, then gives their characters inconsistent intelligence and instincts. It’s as if its creators borrowed bits of what looks cool from other popular espionage films without considering the story, motivations, tone, or how to subvert clichés.

The film reteams two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) with director Simon Kinberg of 2019’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” Chastain, also an executive producer on “The 355,” pitched the idea of a woman-led espionage film, eager to showcase a female ensemble in a serious action movie, not a jokey comedy. Unfortunately, the script by Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck (“Smash”) has the feel of hitting the basic highlights with no depth.

Chastain plays Mason “Mace” Browne, a CIA hothead who while tracking down a gizmo that can’t fall into the wrong hands joins forces with other spies played by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o (“Americanah”), Oscar-winner Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”), and Diane Kruger (“In the Fade”).

This gadget can access anything on the internet, so evildoers can black out entire cities or crash airplanes—a hideous event in which the film indulges at least twice. Colombian police stumble upon the device during a drug raid, and one officer, Luis (Édgar Ramirez, “Jungle Cruise”), scoops it up to sell to the highest bidder.

Four women walk into a gala, one wearing a dress, another a gown, and two in elegant slacks.
From left: Penélope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, and Diane Kruger go on the trail of a diabolical gadget in “The 355” / Courtesy of IMDB.com

CIA handler Larry Marks (John Douglas Thompson, “Mare of Easttown”) sends Mace and agent Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”) to Paris as these bidders to retrieve it. Nick, Mace’s longtime best friend, first brings up Mace’s dedication to her career. With a notable lack of chemistry, the two then discuss their long-held feelings. Three guesses on how that turns out.

Moments later, German agent Marie Schmidt (Kruger) interrupts Luis’s exchange with the CIA. When the whole situation goes south, Marie’s boss (Sylvester Groth, “Dark”) questions her dedication over what Marie calls “daddy issues.”

Mace asks friend and ex-MI6 hacker Khadijah Adiyeme (Nyong’o) to help her find Luis and the device. They intersect with Marie and Graciela Rivera (Cruz), a psychologist from Colombia’s spy agency sent to convince Luis to surrender. Some double-crosses spur the women to work together against a shadowy operative (Jason Flemyng, “Pennyworth”) scheming to get the device. Chinese state security agent Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) turns up later to grant the women access to a high-end black-market auction where they dress to the nines emulating “Mission: Impossible” and “Ocean’s 8.”

Some action sequences in “The 355” aren’t bad, but the film overall can’t decide on its tone. In some parts, it has the grit of the Jason Bourne films while other scenes take the more lighthearted approach of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. Mace and Marie are capable hand-to-hand fighters; yet the script also has Khadijah supply the women with glitzy jewelry containing cameras and explosives hidden in perfume spritzers. It’s an odd mix.

Closeup of a Chinese woman wearing glasses and dressed in an elegant red gown
Bingbing Fan plays a Chinese security agent in “The 355” / Courtesy of IMDB.com

Far clunkier is how capable the women are one minute and ignorant the next. They’re sharpshooters who can take out a guy on a rooftop from the street below in one scene; yet three of them can’t hit one man in another because the movie would be over too soon.

In one instance, as they trail a man through a marketplace in Morocco, Khadijah stops Mace from following him into a mosque, noting that a white woman can’t possibly blend in—a good point, but Mace is already conspicuous in a white suit and a fedora. At least Mace has the sense to throw on a wig elsewhere. At another point, Khadijah also trails someone at a fish market where her working-class mark easily finds her suspicious, Khadijah being the only woman there dressed in a blazer.

Marie sporadically disguises herself, too, but Kruger’s “screw it” attitude makes the character work. Cruz, whose character is the only one married with children, gets to cry, call home, and cower a lot. The women have several heart-to-hearts about the difficulties of balancing work with a personal life, which drags the pacing while billions of lives are supposedly at stake.

On the plus side, the leads seem to find each other amiable company, especially in a scene where they recall their first kills. Here’s hoping they’re toasting to a much better adventure.

Review: The Operative

Year: 2019
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Director/Writer: Yuval Adler
Stars: Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman, Cas Anvar

By Mique Watson

Adapted from the novel “The English Teacher”, writer/director Yuval Adler has made a film wherein for almost the entire run time, we have no idea what and who it is about: is about Rachel, a woman recruited to infiltrate a company potentially involved with nuclear weapons in Tehran (nukes you say? Would’ve been nice if we could’ve seen them). Is it about Rachel’s handler, Thomas (Martin Freeman), or is it about her target, Farhad (Cas Anvar)? Is it about the moral, political, or societal impacts of espionage–or the demoralizing things one would have to do to succeed in this particular line of business? By the end, I had absolutely no bloody clue. I suppose one could say it works at least as well as its bland title “The Operative”, which describes Rachel (Diane Krueger) who, throughout the entirety of this enigmatic picture, is a frustrating cypher.

This story is told in a non-linear fashion; we jump back and forth in time between the disappearance of Rachel–why she’d chosen to go off the map. Adler does manage to conjure up of some genuine moments of anxiety and stress; yet, this is a tragic case of the parts bearing more impact than the whole. Yes, the film as a whole is pretty dull–and when it isn’t dull, it’s infuriating.

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The film opens with our conduit, Thomas (Martin Freeman)–Rachel’s former handler. Amidst the drab beige outdoor colour palette, he receives a phone call; on the other end we hear: “My father died. Again”. It’s Rachel–and she’s been missing, and he wants answers. We eventually get to those answers, and believe me; they’re as predictable as the film’s title.

Is it about the moral, political, or societal impacts of espionage–or the demoralizing things one would have to do to succeed in this particular line of business? By the end, I had absolutely no bloody clue. I suppose one could say it works at least as well as its bland title “The Operative”

Before I totally rip this generic pile of “ugh” apart, credit must be given where it is due: Krueger tries really hard. She gives an expertly steely, yet vulnerable performance; her beauty and talent shine through, despite the bland, almond hair and muted tones she wears (which, I suppose is done in an effort to convey that she, as a spy, must blend; her person mirrors the film’s drab, muted colour palette). We’re informed that Rachel has had a difficult childhood–that this has supposedly played a role in her character choosing to live such a dangerous life.

I haven’t read the book, so if there’s more to Rachel there, I couldn’t possibly say; here though, there’s just so little meat to her. She, like Tehran, is full of secrets. Apparently, Rachel’s mission is to travel to Tehran and pose as an English teacher; in doing so, she must infiltrate an electronics company in an effort to sell defective nuclear tech (tech with tracking devices!) to Iranian intelligence…and them some stuff about trade sanctions in case you were still paying attention. Except this is barely the focus of the story: the ACTUAL story is about Rachel falling madly in love with the company’s founder, Farhad–a man whose only noticeable characteristics are his handsome face and even more handsome bank account. In no time they’re flirting–I wish I was kidding.

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This is a story of a woman who can’t be fully controlled by the men around her; but above all else, this is a story about a woman written by a man.

Yes, Tehran is full of secrets–yet the only secrets Rachel ostensibly shows interest in are the inner workings of Farhad’s heart. It’s such a shame we never really know just what she sees in him–the chemistry Kruger and Anvar share are about as noticeable as a needle in a haystack. As a matter of fact, for the most part, I was under the impression that this seduction was all part of her mission.

This is a story of a woman who can’t be fully controlled by the men around her; but above all else, this is a story about a woman written by a man. Rachel is just about the most frustrating female spy I’ve ever seen–one who happens to embody all the nastiest stereotypes of women: she instantly gets emotionally attached to her target (and sleeps with him almost just as instantly), she’s unprofessional, she’s unreliable, and she is utterly incompetent when it comes to following basic instructions (there’s a scene when she yells “I follow your protocols like a fucking robot”–I burst out into laughter). She lies to her superiors about being adopted for a reason so risible, it’s insulting; it doesn’t even have any bearing on the plot whatsoever. Every decision she makes revolves around Farhad; almost every significant conversation she has whilst not in his presence is about him.

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In the end, we’re left with a frustrating effort which completely fails at offering us any form of narrative catharsis. Throughout the entirety of this crime-drama (“crime” “drama”), there is precisely one terrifying scene: it involves Rachel driving a truck full of weapons into the isolated mountains over the Turkish border; one thing leads to another, and she ends up being surrounded by a group of men she’d never met. But aside from that, this film is just one anti-climactic scene after another. And then, “The Operative” just … ends. I haven’t seen a conclusion this abrupt since 2012’s “The Devil Inside”; perhaps Rachel is meant to be unknowable? By the end, It appears that Krueger is just as confused and bewildered as we are.

0.5 stars

Signature Entertainment presents The Operative on DVD and Digital HD from 13th January