19 Oct 2022

At The Movies - The 355

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 19 October 2022

The 355 - a film that came to life as a blockbuster thriller with a feminist twist and ended up a programme filler on Prime Video. 

Everything about spy thriller The 355 smacked of hubris. It was certainly the hottest of properties when it was launched at a pre-Covid Cannes Film Market, prompting an international bidding war.

What if five of the most respected female stars - from all over the world - played the world's top spies - from all over the world? A sort of female James Bond - times five.

Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard - every one an Oscar winner, and all gorgeous.

And on top of that, Bingbing Fan - at the time the biggest star in China. No wonder Chinese millionaires were fighting to throw money at The 355

All right, the title was a slight problem - it needed a lot of explanation, which it only really got at the end.

But so confident was producer Jessica Chastain that the world was hanging out for a female version of a male action movie, that The 355 remained the title. And then the wheels started falling off.

Even before Covid ruined the film's launch in 2020 there were problems. First Marion Cotillard found she was unavailable and needed to be replaced. Failing someone bankable and French, the producers turned to someone German - Diane Kruger.

This wasn't a bad thing - Diane's by far the best thing in the movie.

Then something rather less easy to shrug off happened. Bingbing Fan ran into trouble with the Chinese tax department, and suddenly a lot of the Chinese money also evaporated.

Then, belatedly, they started looking at the script. It seemed rather familiar to fans of Pulp fiction. Remember Mia Wallace's failed pilot?

Yes, The 355 is Fox Force Five played for real. Five foxy chicks up against an evil crime consortium who threaten to use computers to - I don't know - rule the world.

Nothing wrong with this as a starting point, of course. Hello James Bond, Fast and Furious, The Expendables and the rest of the mostly-male action movies that still fill cinemas on weekends.

But I'm not sure these are the action heroes you want…

I'm not saying that "award-winning actress" and "female action star" are necessarily contradictions in terms. Look at Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron. Or Emily Blunt, even, or Natalie Portman or half the cast of Game of Thrones. Give them a weapon and a running start and watch them go.

You don't really need a good actor as an action hero. Good acting is mostly a liability in an action flick. Look at The Rock, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Arnie - right back to John Wayne and Errol Flynn, I suppose.

There's not usually much introspection there, there's simply the Right Thing that needs doing.

The 355 wastes its undoubted acting talents on minimal characters. Two of them are loners, one of them is a family woman, one of them has a boyfriend, the other…. I'm sorry, I can't remember what the other one had. A cat maybe?

There's a lot of James Bond - dressing up to go to the casino and shooting enormous guns and fighting with sticks when the ammo runs out. By the end, it's all pretty stupid.

So, from cinematic peacock to dowdy peahen... In the end, The 355 made a low-profile debut on Amazon Prime, and sadly, was never heard of again.

A more convincing cast might have helped, but what it needed to be was not a female-friendly version of a lot of male movies but just a movie, one that happened to have strong women in it.

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