An action film featuring an ensemble of spies, The 355 boasts a superb cast of five female leads. The title is a reference to the codename of an anonymous female spy who fought during the American Revolution. This is the first indication that the aim is to place the spotlight on women and their often unsung efforts.
The story is centred around a newly invented high-tech device that can be used as a lethal weapon to control and destroy en masse, potentially offsetting a third world war. CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Jessica Chastain) teams up with former MI6 computer specialist Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) and rival German agent Marie (Diane Kruger) to achieve their common goal of ensuring the device doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. A practical matter forces Colombian psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz) to accompany the group as they hunt down the hard-drive around the world, in spite of her strong reluctance to take part. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman named Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan) turns out to be closely involved in the affair.
A weak plot revolving around a generic threat to international security is not the only problematic element of The 355. It’s certainly refreshing to see an all-female cast star in a usually male-dominated genre, but this is the only feature that sets the film apart and distinguishes it from myriad other action flicks that see globetrotting secret agents save the world, using the most sophisticated technology to crack codes, never missing a beat. Even the production’s strength, however, poses a limit. It is intended to diversify and challenge the status quo when it comes to casting and plot choices, but this is too obviously its main selling point and aim.
Aside from the choice of having an all-female cast, The 355 also strives to be international, with each lead actress representing a different continent. While the intentions are commendable, these choices seem contrived rather than organic. The script includes statements (for instance, one about women having been erased from history) that essentially shout its manifesto a little too loudly. Rather than having five female characters being themselves, The 355 uses these characters as symbols to promote diversity and gender equality in ways that are too unsubtle to feel powerful or authentic. That said, it is overall a sassy and fun ride with an irresistibly cool cast who manage to keep it all afloat.
The 355 is released nationwide on 7th January 2022.
Watch the trailer for The 355 here: