CLUNKING dialogue and annoying visual clichés mean the only saving grace for Fernando Meirelles’s 360 is that it looks good.
Brit screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) serve up a glossy and rather gooey-brained treatise on global interconnectivity with 360, a metaphor-heavy spin on the kind of self-serious, we’re-all-linked-together cinema typified by the likes of Crash and Babel. Like those films, it deploys a “butterfly effect” narrative device to push a number of dull characters – all of whom are grappling with various love and sex-fuelled dilemmas – into numerous contrived and unbelievable situations. So much so that when, say, a Slovakian prostitute in Vienna flaps her breasts – so to speak – for a photographer during her induction into the seedy Austrian escort industry, the subsequent ripple will be felt across several international borders by a dozen characters whose lives will schism as a consequence of this tiny little act.
This is how the film opens and, while the initial setting and the occupation of the woman (played by Lucia Siposová) is a specific tribute to Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play La Ronde (and perhaps Max Ophüls’s scalpel-sharp 1950 adaptation of it), the tenuous pan-global sweep and platitudinous dialogue that follows is very much the work of the writer behind Clint Eastwood’s disastrous, similarly themed Hereafter.
“A wise man once said, if you meet a fork in the road you should take it,” is the first of many off-the-shelf clunkers Morgan gives his largely one-dimensional characters to say; and the film duly proceeds by having these self-help-book-vomiting dullards repeatedly flirt with making potentially life-changing decisions because, you know, “we only live once”.
Thus we get Jude Law as a British businessman whose frustrations with his marriage and family life find him wrestling with his conscience as he engages the services of the aforementioned hooker while on a trip to the Austrian capital. Meanwhile, back in London, his magazine editor wife (Rachel Weisz) is ruminating over her own ongoing affair with a hot young Brazilian photographer called Rui (Juliano Cazarré), whose sick-of-being-cheated-on girlfriend Laura (Maria Flor) has, in turn, decided to dump him and return to Rio.
En route, she finds herself sharing a flight with an older man (Anthony Hopkins) who is flying to Miami to identify what might be the body of his missing daughter. It probably hardly needs to be said that they strike up a bit of a surrogate father/daughter bond and that this, in turn, leads each to confront aspects of their own past. This happens when bad weather forces a layover in a snowy Denver, where – wouldn’t you know it? – a newly released sex offender is making his way to a half-way house.
Other stories – involving Muslim dentists, Eastern European gangsters and love-sick chauffeurs – pad out the running time by adding the cities of Paris and Bratislava to the film’s global jaunt, but none of this really justifies its presentation as the stuff of viable drama.
The therapy sessions and AA meetings that Morgan has some of his characters attend, for instance, are fairly lazy ways of having them deliver the film’s theme-reinforcing, bumper-sticker-ready homilies. He also seems to be under the impression that having characters point out the ridiculousness of some of the plot points being deployed excuses his use of them in the first place.
It’s a shame, because you can see the likes of Weisz and Hopkins (who is uncharacteristically understated here) pushing against the strictures of the writing in an effort to transform their sketchily drawn characters into believable people.
Of the ensemble cast, Ben Foster is the most successful at doing this. In the role of that newly released sex offender, his brief but wiry and intense performance manages to convincingly convey the dilemmas of a damaged man who sees temptation in every direction. But even so, his strong, measured work is undercut by the film’s decision to throw Laura into his path just after she has decided to behave recklessly for the first time in her life.
Things aren’t especially helped by Meirelles reinforcing Morgan’s narrative clichés with visual ones. Tiresome use of split screens, scenes within scenes and spinning cameras attempt to inject some energy into the vapid screenplay, but to no avail. Working with cinematographer Adriano Goldman, Meirelles does ensure the film is often beautiful to look at, but after the dreariness of The Constant Gardener and the conceptual awkwardness of Blindness, the raw, visceral filmmaking that Meirelles seemed poised to deliver in the wake of City of God’s immense and deserved success now seems like a very long time ago.
In the end, though, true to its title, the problems with the film all come back to Morgan’s paper-thin script, the only truthful moment of which occurs when one character inadvertently offers her own critique of the film. “This dialogue,” she says, “is ridiculous.”
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Moritz Bleibtreu, Jamel Debbouze
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