Back in May of 2018, news broke that Jessica Chastain was producing a new picture through her Freckle Films shingle. The 355 was her brainchild, conceived as a female-driven spy thriller with an international all-star cast. And who did Chastain select to write the script? Theresa Rebeck, whose most prominent screenwriting credits to date have been the 1996 adaptation of Harriet the Spy (yikes) and the 2004 Catwoman film with Halle Berry (fucking YIKES). Even worse, Chastain personally hand-picked Simon Kinberg to direct, co-write, and co-produce the picture.
To repeat, Producer Jessica Chastain made the decision to hire Simon Kinberg to make this his sophomore directorial effort, after his directorial debut resulted in the nuclear industry-shaking catastrophe of Dark Phoenix, featuring a career-worst performance from Chastain herself.
Jess, I love you, but what in the nine hells could you have possibly been thinking?!
The crux of the film is a hard drive containing a computer program capable of accessing, hijacking, and potentially destroying literally anything connected to the internet. I might add that this was literally the exact same crisis as F9. Long story short, the drive falls into the hands of a Colombian federal agent (Luis Rojas, played by Edgar Ramirez), who offers up the hard drive to the CIA for a grand total of $3 million.
To repeat: This is a device that could single-handedly devastate the entire global economy, start World War III, kill pretty much anyone instantly with the push of a button, and God knows what else… all for the price of $3 million. Of course, it’s mentioned in passing that Luis didn’t know what was on the drive, but then why would he go to the CIA with this sale if he didn’t know what was on the drive? Furthermore, there’s a point later on in which the hard drive is put up for auction, with hundreds of well-financed criminals in attendance who know exactly what the drive is. The winning bid is just over $500 million. For a device that could reshape or outright destroy the world’s economy overnight. WHAT THE HIGH-FLYING FUCK?!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Point is, the hard drive is pathetically cliched and absurdly underpriced from the get-go, I’m calling that Strike One.
The CIA sends in Mason “Mace” Browne (Chastain) and Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) to make the exchange. Thing is, Mace has friend-zoned Nick even after a failed attempt at romance, though that doesn’t stop Nick from coming onto her as hard as he possibly can even though they’re both on a mission. Mixing work with pleasure like this is a terrible idea for obvious reasons, and Mace makes it perfectly clear she’s not interested in him as a romantic item, but she still agrees to have sex with him after maybe two minutes of banter. That’s Strike Two.
To make another long story short, of course the exchange goes bad. And after a chase sequence ruined by bad choreography and unwatchable shaky-cam, Nick dies and/or turns evil. Not even ten minutes in and we’re already past Strike Three.
Alas, the movie doesn’t get any better from there. We’ve got a heist with plot points lifted directly from Ocean’s Eight. We’ve got the aforementioned MacGuffin pulled directly from the most recent Fast and Furious movies, (Come to think of it, didn’t The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard have something similar?) but it doesn’t work nearly as well here because it’s supposed to be played straight. We’ve got dialogue comprised of cliched lines left, right, and center. The climax has an honest-to-God “No, that would be cheating” moment. There’s a bit of lamenting about how we all knew who our enemies were back in the Cold War and now our international threats are invisible, straight out of every single one of the James Bond movies made under Daniel Craig’s tenure. And of course we can’t forget the woefully incompetent fight scenes, nor the empty and utterly trite feminist statements.
But what about our lead actors, rightfully billed as the primary reason to watch this? Well, let’s run down the list.
- Jessica Chastain plays Mace Brown of the CIA, de facto leader of the team. Her primary motivation is to avenge Nick, but that doesn’t work because their relationship was broken from the outset. Otherwise, her performance here is like if Zero Dark Thirty had been made by Peter Berg: A committed performance in the wrong movie. Chastain is well within her wheelhouse, but she’s done far superior work elsewhere in this lane.
- Diane Kruger plays Marie Schmidt of the BND, an explosives specialist and a loose cannon who doesn’t trust anyone because of her traumatic past and her daddy issues and blah blah blah. Again, this is a wonderful actor who’s done far better work in this lane. It certainly doesn’t help that Mace and Marie have this whole cliched arc in which they hate each other and they have to gradually learn how to trust each other, but the script and direction are too hopelessly broken to make it work.
- Penelope Cruz plays Graciela Rivera, of the same Colombian agency that employs Luis. The catch is that she’s not really a field agent — she’s a therapist who helps Luis and other agents like him to move past the stress and trauma of their jobs. She’s got a family back home, and she really has no business on this mission, but Luis dragged her into it (that’s another long story) and now she has to step up. And honestly, her development arc isn’t bad at all, and I appreciate all the clever ways that Graci thinks to make herself useful despite her inexperience in the field.
- Lupita Nyong’o is on hand as Khadijah “Dij” Adiyeme, a cybersecurity expert formerly of MI6. As with Graci, Dij is technically out of the game with a loved one at home, and she’s called upon to be a level-headed counter to Mace and Marie. Yet Dij proves herself to be no slouch in combat and her tech savvy is endlessly useful. She’s a good well-rounded character, and Nyong’o is of course more than capable as a supporting player.
- Last but not least is Fan Bingbing, representing the MSS of China. There’s not much to say about the character, as she comes in terribly late to the party and doesn’t play any kind of significant role until the second act is practically over. She makes up for lost time in a big way during the climax, though.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our two male leads. Alas, Sebastian Stan seems to be sleepwallking his way through this one, and Edgar Ramirez is pathetically wasted.
In summary, I think the late Gene Siskel said it best: “I wish I’d seen a documentary about the same actors having lunch.”
The more I think about The 355, the more I write about it and the more I research it, the more I hate this piece of shit. It’s asinine, it’s boring, it’s threadbare, it’s incompetent, it’s uninspired, it’s just plain BAD. It’s a pathetic mishmash of scenes and plot points from other, far superior and more enjoyable globe-trotting action films stitched together by a filmmaker with no idea how to make them novel or fun. The themes about feminism and national security are shallow and brain-dead to the point of insulting. The action scenes themselves, and even a good chunk of the characters simply talking are rendered unwatchable by incompetent camerawork and editing.
Seriously, it’s like the filmmakers didn’t have a single good or unique idea aside from putting an international cast of women in a room together and hoping their world-class talent would salvage something. Instead, every single one of them — most especially Jessica Chastain — should be embarrassed for taking part in a project that so terribly wasted their time and talent.
This year, the traditional January dumping grounds are compounded by fears over the ongoing COVID-19 Omicron surge. With such a godawful release date, this movie was destined for obscurity. It should be left there. And for everybody’s sake, we should throw Simon Kinberg in there with it!