Movie Review: The 355

Jessica Chastain leads the pack in The 355.

Written by Josh Ickes
Movie Review: The 355
(from left) Graciela (Penélope Cruz), Mason “Mace” (Jessica Chastain), Khadijah (Lupita Nyong'o) and Marie (Diane Kruger) in The 355, co-written and directed by Simon Kinberg.

This is the epitome of a “great pitch” movie. Gather up an all star, award winning cast to front a globe trotting female empowerment spy flick. If done well, this could lead to an all female Expendables type franchise. If done crassly it could just be a “girls with guns” romp. Never did I expect it to be done blandly though. 

The crux of the plot hinges on a cyber macguffin that could end civilized life as we know it, if it falls into the wrong hands. The stakes could not be higher. Mace (Jessica Chastain) is brought in to find the hard drive with the world ending software package on it and through a series of twists, turns, fake-outs and double crosses she winds up allying herself with a United Colors of Benetton ads worth of internationally sourced female James Bonds. This aspect is the saving grace of the movie. The scenes where the action slows down and gives the women a chance to actually get to know each other are charming and well played.  

The action scenes on the other hand leave a lot to be desired. The camera work ramps up from regular handheld camera to a series of shaky-cam jump cuts that leave the viewer dazed and ultimately bored. I was frequently reminded of the (in)famous gif of Liam Neeson (not) jumping over a fence in Taken 3. While nothing here quite achieves that level of ridiculousness, it does frequently verge on the same territory. In sequences where the women are supposed to be working together, the movie struggles to keep track of all of the moving pieces, with characters springing to each others aid from out of nowhere. The kind of filmmaking being attempted here isn’t easy by any means, but The 355 makes it look downright impossible.

This is on top of the fact that the movie just looks so boring. In the twisty world of shadows and secrets that the plot lays out, every single scene is brightly lit to the point of being flat. Theres hardly any life or contrast to the frame in the majority of the movie. The common complaint these days is that movies and tv shows are too dark, but The 355 could desperately have used some more contrast and grit in it’s lighting design. 

Bingbing Fan as Lin Mi Sheng in The 355, co-written and directed by Simon Kinberg.

For a movie that screams “girl boss” as boldly as this one does, it also gives short shrift to some of it’s leading characters. Fan Bingbing is grossly underserved as Lin Mi Sheng, by not only her late entrance into the movie but also the fact that they saddle her with the racist stereotype of providing “ancient Chinese” medicines and poisons to the group. The most well rounded character is Diane Krugers Marie, who still only gets a barely there backstory to justify her involvement with the plot. 

This is a movie that, based on its cast and premise should be a blast, I would still line up to see that version. The 355 opens nationwide in theaters on January 7th.