Tempo grade: B+
Storyteller 7 Cinemas
Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material.
James Bond 007 was fond of striding into a room and casually introducing himself, “James … James Bond.” If this British spy was supposed to be a secret agent he wasn’t doing a very good job. Everybody knew who he was. Plus, he was a primitive misogynist who thought nothing of using a belly dancer as a shield against bullets.
Now, as for the “355,” these women are so undercover, they’ve been erased.
The new action film directed by Simon Kinberg builds upon the mystique of Bond — and may even exist in the same universe thanks to a slyly tossed bit of dialogue — but here it centers on an international and racially diverse group of highly skilled female spies who find themselves on the hunt for a device that digitally is as dangerous as a nuclear bomb.
Kinberg, working from a script he co-wrote with Theresa Rebeck and Bek Smith, attempts to flip the gender tables on the spy thriller genre by depicting hardcore spies adept at martial arts, expert gunplay and covert intelligence gathering. On paper, this probably sounded brilliant, especially when it came to having them kill with no remorse as long it’s a bad guy. In practice, the idea of women who obviously are very smart, worldly and even emotionally grounded by family, husbands and boyfriends slips a bit if the idea crosses one’s mind regarding how women might really go after the villain(s) in a more intelligent way other than blasting dudes with fists, bullets and explosives.
The film centers at first on Mason “Mace” Browne (Jessical Chastain), an American CIA agent who is not real good at following orders and is under investigation for her “rogue” behavior. She gets assigned to find a man (Edgar Ramírez) who possesses the device and conduct a hand-off involving $3 million. The plan goes awry when a blonde woman, whom we’ll find out later is Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), a German spy, goes after the same guy.
During the operation, Mace’s boyfriend, Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) disappears from the plot, but not to fret, a star of his stature is bound to come back. Eventually, Mace and Marie fight but later make up because they’re after the same thing. Then, tech whiz Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), who has a loving boyfriend back home, is reluctantly brought in to track the device. Then, somehow, a psychologist who is a wife and mother named Gaciela (Penélope Cruz) joins the group followed by an unexpected alliance with an Asian spy working deep undercover as an art dealer. This woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan) rounds out the gang as plot twists and gunfire mixed with martial arts toss the device from bad guys to good guys and back again.
Kinberg centers most of the action on Marie and Mace, the white women who it is obviously believed are the ones to which the audience might be most attracted. That’s too bad, because the sentiment toward watching an exciting thriller not populated by posturing macho men has surely grown tiring but it’s dissipated by this particular choice. Let’s hope this element is flipped as well as the gender tables when the suggestion of a sequel gets picked up.
Oh, and about that title? The title is a reference to agent 355, which was the codename of an unidentified female spy who fought for the paatriots during the American Revolution.
This film is screening at the Mitchell Storyteller 7 Cinemas, 110 Old Talpa Cañon Road in Taos. Visit storyteller7.com or call (575) 751-4245 for information about tickets, showtimes and COVID restrictions.
Here’s what’s showing at the TCA
Tempo grade: A
Rated R for strong/bloody violence, some sexual content, nudity, language and smoking.
Director Guillermo Del Toro, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Nightmare Alley” with Kim Morgan and adapted William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, has become a master of creating worlds of wonder, fantasies consisting of layer upon layer of details in set design, costumes and cinematic atmosphere.
When applied to a period piece centered on a down-and-out carnival, one feels transported back in time. But, all of this works tremendously in service to this story in particular, where the allegory seems blatant but really isn’t. We know these symbols, the color scheme assigned to certain characters and ways the lighting is used to punctuate bits of dialogue. But, Del Toro is using a much more subtle palette to paint these characters.
Some have already faulted this movie for being “too slow.” But, Del Toro knows exactly what he’s doing. All you have to do is pay attention. Like any good card trick, it’s all in the sleight-of-hand. This film stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, and Richard Jenkins.
It will be screening Sunday (Jan. 9), 2 p.m., and Tuesday (Jan. 11), 7 p.m. in the Movies on the Big Screen series at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For more information and COVID restrictions, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.
It is also showing daily at the Mitchell Storyteller Cinemas, 110 Old Talpa Cañon Road. For more information and COVID restrictions, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.