Isn’t it about time we held some sort of moratorium on these purportedly high-brow dramas in which various characters’ lives intersect in a patchwork-like fashion; have we not had enough of them by now? It was once a clever and original conceit – shot to fame in many ways by the success of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores perros – and can still be swiftly effective with a strong enough script, ala Paul Haggis’ Best Picture-winning Crash. Unfortunately the dream team of City of God director Fernando Meirelles and Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan can’t find a way out of the mire with 360, an unambitious but well-acted drama which ultimately fails to coalesce due to its cold and impersonal construction.
The film consists of five stories occurring the world over, from London, to Paris, to Bratislava; a Slovakian escort tries to make ends meet with the help of a Russian pimp, a French Muslim has a crisis of faith when tempted by a colleague who is drifting away from her husband; an upper-class British couple (Jude Law and Rachel Weisz) cheat on each other yet remain connected by their daughter; a sexual deviant recently released from prison (Ben Foster) struggles to keep his urges at bay, and an older man mourning the loss of his missing daughter (Anthony Hopkins) connects with a young Brazilian woman on a flight.
360 is not a pleasant film, and while that in itself isn’t in any way a flaw, the fact that it very nearly descends into misanthropic misery porn certainly is. This is a grand, sweeping narrative full of liars and cheats at every turn, with humanity hard to find, and even when it rears its head at the tonally jarring, shockingly hopeful climax, it feels positively unearned by an awkward thriller-esque scenario which closes the film out. In this film, adultery in of itself becomes an almost ubiquitous motif, but at least that’s a realistic facet of human life; what isn’t is when characters otherwise shown to be completely level-headed suddenly rush off with a grinning suitor while waiting for their friends, with little care that the person they’re waiting for might return and get concerned. When this action is so pivotal in the film’s closing moments, it hits an especially sour note; this just isn’t something people do so whimsically in real life, especially if, as is the case in this film, the character in question’s sister is upstairs performing a sex act for money.
The whole concoction feels very inauthentic, especially when compared to Meirelles’ City of God, yet even his mixed bag Blindness at least highlighted some truly nasty aspects of human nature with some savage conviction, and most of all, honesty. Instead, 360 gives the impression of a writer and director working on autopilot while waiting for more alluring projects to ferment; it’s visually lavish as is to be expected, and the cast acquit themselves well with what they have, but thanks to a mediocre script above all else, it stumbles when reaching for emotional resonance.
What’s here feels like warmed-up leftovers, not without its moments that work – especially those involving Foster and Hopkins, if owed to the strength of their performances more than anything – but ultimately hollow and trite in its ‘seize the day’ message and especially its cornball ending, which will blindside viewers who will by this point expect something a lot less flowery and doe-eyed.
The London Film Festival has had a knack for getting off to a slow start in recent years, and 2011 is little different; this is another middle-of-the-road venture which boasts several exceptional elements, yet is undone by a frustratingly underdeveloped script. There are some compelling performances here – especially Foster and Hopkins – but they are held at the mercy of tiresome armchair philosophy and an almost fetishistic focus on silly people and the misery they cause.
360 opened the 55th BFI London Film Festival earlier today. No release date in the U.K. or U.S. is currently set.