Film Review of the Week


The 355 (12A)

Review: Taking its title from the codename of America’s first female spy, who was recruited to gather intelligence for George Washington and has never been formally identified, The 355 forcibly corrects the gender imbalance of Hollywood’s splashy forays into globe-trotting espionage under the aegis of James Bond, Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne. Writer-director Simon Kinberg assembles a starry lead cast including Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz and Fan Bingbing to trade physical blows and barbs in spectacular locations around the globe in pursuit of a hi-tech gizmo that sets a tortuous plot in motion.

When a dying man stares into the eyes of one female agent and gasps “Trust no one”, audiences should take note. Kinberg and co-writer Theresa Rebeck saturate their script with double-crosses and deceptions in a high-stakes world of interagency rivalry, where fictional male heroes are ripe for ribbing (“James Bond never has to deal with real life!”) in between bullet-riddled action set-pieces.

Hand-to-hand combat and running gun battles accompanied by a propulsive Tom Holkenborg score are breathlessly choreographed and on-screen violence is unflinching, including one tense negotiation to bluntly hammer home the personal cost of playing the spy game. Execution is consistently slick but Kinberg’s film lacks one innovative and thrilling sequence to elevate this tangled tale above its testosterone-heavy predecessors. The 355 falls short of being The 1.

A drugs bust south of Bogota fortuitously interrupts the sale of a portable hard drive capable of hacking every network on the planet including nuclear launch sites, power grids, financial markets and airplane operating systems. Colombian operative Luis Rojas (Edgar Ramírez) pockets the hardware and offers the device for sale to international intelligence agencies. Ballsy CIA agent Mace Brown (Chastain) and partner Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) spearhead the American response while German lone wolf Marie Schmidt (Kruger) runs the rival BND operation.

The two teams collide in Paris and the hard drive falls into the wrong hands. Mace goes rogue and recruits former MI6 asset and computer specialist Khadijah (Nyong’o) to join her covert cadre. Khadijah persuades Mace to harness Marie’s expertise and soon after, Colombian psychologist Graciela (Cruz) becomes entangled in the daredevil enterprise. The four heroines cross borders and are casually dismissed by one mercenary (Jason Flemyng) as “a harem of women in head scarves” following a botched handover in Marrakesh. Meanwhile, an enigmatic Chinese figure (Bingbing) tracks the hard drive’s movements with an ulterior motive.

Calibrated as a franchise opening salvo, The 355 trades energetically in guns and gadgetry (jewellery embedded with spy cams) with respectful nods to Ocean’s 8 and Mission: Impossible. Rebeck and Kinberg’s screenplay serves slivers of emotional meat for the lead cast to sink their teeth into before henchmen threaten to punch out those resplendent pearly whites in bruising fisticuffs.

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Boiling Point (15)

Review: Too many cooks spoil a pungent broth in writer-director Philip Barantini’s pressure cooker drama, which is shot in one unbroken take to capture simmering tensions in an east London restaurant during an eventful pre-Christmas service. Co-written by Barantini and James A Cummings, Boiling Point loads a sprightly 95-minute running time with a bewildering array of ingredients, including drug addiction, racism, marital strife, professional jealousy and a heavily signposted medical emergency. There are simply too many characters jostling for attention as Barantini’s camera prowls a real-life eaterie that serves as a fabulously festive backdrop to myriad emotional meltdowns and home truths.

A tightly coiled central performance from Stephen Graham as a head chef teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown is extremely tasty and he blends magnificently with Vinette Robinson as a no-nonsense second-in-command, who is constantly soothing bruised egos and fighting proverbial fires. Both actors bark orders, trade barbs and meticulously assemble dishes as if a busy pass is their second home. Outside of this compelling dynamic, characterisation is sketchy and the script contrives longueurs like a washer upper sneaking a cigarette as obvious dramatic pauses between fractious set-pieces.

As Yuletide approaches, staff of swanky Dalston restaurant Jones & Sons prepare for one of the busiest services of the year. The night begins with an environmental health officer (Thomas Coombes) downgrading the food hygiene rating to three stars, principally for lapses in paperwork. Head chef Andy Jones (Graham) is on edge, juggling issues at home involving his young son Nathan, staff absences, and shortages of key ingredients for 100 covers. Maitre d’ Beth (Alice Feetham) allows food influencers to order steak and chips off-menu for a picture-perfect plate worthy of their 30,000 Instagram followers.

Sous chef Carly (Robinson) is apoplectic and publicly chastises Beth for caring more about her social media presence, “like a budget Kardashian”, than the smooth running of the kitchen. Andy’s mood darkens when he learns that his former mentor, supercilious celebrity chef Alistair Skye (Jason Flemyng), is booked on to table four with influential food critic Sara Southworth (Lourdes Faberes). A bigoted customer on table seven and a nut allergy on table 13 turn up the heat on commis chef Freeman (Ray Panthaki), new salad chef Camille (Izuka Hoyle) and waitress Andrea (Lauryn Ajufo) and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets burnt.

Boiling Point is a technical tour de force that holds our attention in a vice-like grip even when the scripted storytelling lacks full flavour. Barantini’s high-wire direction intensifies a ball of tension in stomachs made ravenous by a steady stream of mouth-watering morsels leaving the kitchen. However, the final 10 minutes feel contrived and overwrought after so many beautiful moments of naturalistic angst that melt on the palate.

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