Jessica Chastain kicks ass in front and behind the camera in The 355

(CNS photo/Robert Viglasky, Universal Pictures)

Jessica Chastain’s passion project The 355 is a femme-centric, kick-ass action film that headlines an all-female ensemble in the male-dominated action genre. But that’s not the only trailblazing factor about this fun film – what went on behind the scenes is just as formidable.

Led by Chastain, each actress was paid the same rate and owns a portion of the project. In addition, they all worked together to make the film outside the parameters of the traditional studio system. This new business model was conceived by Academy Award-nominated Chastain who produced the film with her production company Freckle Films.

Chastain had the idea in 2017 to bring actresses together and call them directly to join forces in front of and behind the camera. These powerhouse actresses Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Krueger, Fan Bingbing, together with Chastain raised the funding in 2018, shot in 2019.

So, let’s get to the film.

The title is derived from Agent 355, the codename of a female spy for the Patriots during the American Revolution. During the American Revolution, centuries before Bond, there was Agent 355, a female spy on George Washington’s side during the American Revolutionary War who helped identify the turncoat Benedict Arnold.

Her name was hidden from history, but her code number has been claimed by this slick and grim espionage flick that aspires to become an all-star, all-female franchise.

The plot of The 355 is in the same vein as a Mission Impossible or James Bond. When a top-secret weapon falls (doesn’t it always?) into mercenary hands, wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Chastain) will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie (Diane Kruger, In the Fade), former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o), and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Oscar winner Penélope Cruz) on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one step ahead of a mysterious Chinese Intelligence officer, Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing, X-Men: Days of Future Past), who is tracking their every move.

Watch the clip below:

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As the action rockets around the globe from the cafes of Paris to the markets of Morocco to the wealth and glamour of Shanghai, the quartet forges a tenuous loyalty that could protect the world—or get them killed.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s Sebastian Stan supports as Chastain’s partner in the CIA and sole best friend in life. With other roles for Édgar Ramírez (Girl on the Train), Emilio Insolera and Jason Wong.

Like Netflix’s Gunpowder Milkshake, the film is refreshing to watch women in all their power and glory play roles historically played by men. Pulling triggers, throwing punches, resisting romance, getting down and dirty, having their liquor neat and doing it all just as effortlessly – if not doing it better.

The message is clear that women can both carry and make bad-ass action films.

These spies are nuanced, feminine, physically skilled, shrewd, brave, and unyielding in their espionage pursuit.  While each woman is tough and capable as a solo agent, the other clear message is that women are stronger together. While binding forces, they are equally as badass as they are diverse.

As Chastain et al step into the shoes of traditionally masculine characters, they thankfully don’t abandon their femininity. They aren’t just spies, they’re wives, mothers, girlfriends, and even orphans. Their nuanced performances give each character a vulnerability that embodies the multitasking spirit of real-life women juggling many hats.

Besides top-tier acting, we can also attribute this success to writer famed American Playwright Theresa Rebeck and director Simon Kinberg, who worked with Chastain on X-Men: Dark Phoenix. This is the kind of writing and direction that allows for these talented actresses to give high impact and nuanced performances.

Each woman also reflects the culture of her country of origin to some degree and many languages are spoken making this film a spotlight for many underrepresented groups on screen. 

This female ensemble in The 355 checks off all the boxes—from double agent to glamourous disguises to building scaling to motorcycle chases— for an entertaining action film. In theaters now, opening weekend is monumental for the future of actresses and women in film for a first-of-its-kind movie like The 355

With a team of actresses who raised the money independently, made The 355 without support from a studio system, and for a fraction of what a film like this would normally cost, the box office will determine if this is a model that puts the power in the hands of creatives will be used again – and if this cliff hanger spy film will get it’s perfectly set up sequel.

Regardless of the outcome, this first-of-its-kind film and the women behind it are revolutionizing the spy genre in The 355.

The 355 can be seen exclusively in theaters.


Megan Penn reports on the indie film market and anything that empowers women and underrepresented groups.