The “355” gathers some of the world’s most gifted and exciting actresses, then wastes them in a generic and forgettable action flick.
Many people, Jessica Chastain included, were intrigued by the film from the beginning. She even served as one of its producers. The movie’s appealing aspects are easy to see–it’s a thrilling spy adventure set in various locations around the world where women work together to save the day. This is definitely a refreshing change! “The 355” also highlights how these female characters break free from past oppression and mansplaining in order to get things done; an experience to which many non-secret agents can still relate too.
It’s clear that the concept was conceived as an ensemble piece. Despite this, there are a number of aspects in director and co-writer Simon Kinberg’s film that feel incompletely thought out. There isn’t much more to these women than a few personality traits, and the times when they may offer deeper or more substantial insights into themselves are fleeting. The physicality of the action sequences—the backbone of any movie like this—is unsatisfying. Shaky filming and rapid editing muddle the choreography and effort that went into staging the complicated chases and fights, making these parts less thrilling than frightening.
The actresses in “The 355” are some of the most talented and beautiful women in Hollywood, but even their costume design is subpar. In Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, and Penelope Cruz, you have four actresses who could wear any type of wardrobe with style. Except for a high-dollar auction in Shanghai, “The 355” misses the opportunity to dress these women fabulously as they travel from city to city – something that would have increased the sense of escapism viewers feel.
Bingbing Fan barely appears in the film until its very end, despite what its marketing would suggest.
What they’re all after is the most basic of McGuffins in the script from Kinberg (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) and long-time TV writer Theresa Rebeck (NYPD Blue, Smash). It’s a flash drive containing a data key that can cause havoc with a few keystrokes: shut down power grids and financial markets, launch nukes and send satellites plummeting to earth. Not that it matters what it does—it’s the thing that sets the plot in motion—but this is a particularly uninspired bad guy toy. You never truly feel its potential threat because it’s so diffuse.
Chastain’s hot-headed CIA officer Mason “Mace” Brown and her partner Nick (Sebastian Stan) pose as newlyweds in Paris to meet up with the Colombian intelligence agent who has the device (an underused Edgar Ramirez), at which point she interrupts it. Marie, as a German black-ops specialist, steals it instead, setting off one of the film’s many fast-paced action sequences. Mace enlists the help of her former MI6 colleague, the brilliant hacker Khadijah (Nyong’o), to trace its location. But Cruz, playing Colombian psychologist Dr. Graciela Rivera, also gets dragged into the fray; implausibly, she was sent into the field to find Ramirez’s character and bring him home.
Eventually, it becomes clear to all of the women that their differences must be set aside so they can find the device. In one such example of clunky exposition, Mace says to Khadijah: “They get this [device], they start World War III.” But first, a fistfight occurs between Mace and Marie involving frozen seafood; however, it isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. And at one point when they are all standing around screaming inane dialogue and pointing guns wildly at each other before reaching an uneasy détente, could not be staged or shot more awkwardly.
The way the film wastes Cruz’s tremendous presence and gift are one of its most serious blunders. She plays the terrified fish out of the water, eager to return home to her husband and children. She’s then forced to be frightened and weak, which isn’t exactly her strong suit, in addition to being included.
There are a few scenes in “The 355” that shows what could have been done better. For example, after they win a battle, the main characters sit around drinking beer and talking about their experiences. The growing companionship among them is enviable and it leaves you wanting to see more of that kind of interaction. Additionally, the idea of them rejecting patriarchal societies, being independent, and having to count on each other for safety is fascinating— sort of like a more bloody rendition of “9 to 5”.
“James Bond never has to deal with real life,” Mace tells Khadijah at one point. “James Bond always ends up alone,” Khadijah responds. This conversation gets closer to resembling a typical human experience. Somewhere in here is the seed of the idea that inspired Chastain in the first place: exploring the sacrifices women often make when they choose career over family and chasing after the tantalizing fantasy that we can have it all. But then, as usual, the movie’s insistent score kicks up again (drowning out everything), and it becomes another action scene where people are gunfire or explosions everywhere.
Movie Name: The 355
Watch free: Cinemahdv2
Cast Leads: Bingbing Fan, Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Simon Kinberg
Producer: Jessica Chastain, Kelly Carmichael
Written by: Theresa Rebeck
Music: Junkie XL
Director Of Photography: Tim Maurice-Jones
Movie Rating: 2.3/5