A globe-trotter goes nowhere
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, August 10, 2012
It’s difficult to make a successful multi-narrative ensemble drama. When the genre works, a collection of small stories adds up to compelling revelations about big, important themes. Just look at “Crash” (an examination of racism), “Traffic” (the drug trade) and “Syriana” (the oil industry). When the approach doesn’t come together, it tends to look like “360” (well?).
The globe-trotting movie touts a long list of big names, including “City of God” director Fernando Meirelles, “The Queen” screenwriter Peter Morgan and actors Rachel Weisz, Anthony Hopkins and Jude Law. And though the cinematography looks sleek, with shots through windows and in mirrors, split screens and city lights that blur and sharpen, the stories equate to a tangled mess.
The movie is an adaptation of the roughly 100-year-old play “Reigen,” by Arthur Schnitzler. That work features a series of two-character scenes. As if passing the baton, one character from each vignette moves onto the next duet, until the final interaction, which includes a character from the initial scene. “360” doesn’t take such a streamlined approach.
The multitudinous tales take place in Colorado, Paris, London and Vienna, among other destinations, and feature the parallel stories of a husband (Law) and wife (Weisz), each of whom is unfaithful; a man (Hopkins) in search of his runaway daughter; a dentist (Jamel Debbouze) enamored of his married employee; and a sex offender (Ben Foster) tentatively leaving prison. Some characters recur; others don’t. The common thread, as was the case in “Reigen,” appears to be romantic entanglements, though there aren’t any deeper messages to be found. There is an overarching emotion, however; nearly every character struggles with fidelity, which translates to an exhausting cynicism.
When the central theme makes a disappearing act from a multi-story motion picture, it can prove problematic, but it isn’t necessarily a movie’s undoing. Weaving together sampled scenes from life can convey the basics of the human condition, reminding an audience to seize the day because life is fleeting. The crowd-sourced film “Life in a Day” comes to mind.
“360” makes a curious case for this message during an utterly out-of-left field monologue by Hopkins, but after witnessing an endless parade of solipsistic relationships, the advice feels disingenuous. Few of the scenes give insight into the characters, which makes it difficult to care about their outcomes. Worse, a few stories feel wholly implausible. The subplot involving the struggling sex offender is a prime example. Even though he looks overtly scary and comes across as rude, a lovely young Brazilian woman practically throws herself at him upon their chance introduction. The moment feels designed to create suspense, but the effect is more annoyingly manufactured than genuinely tense.
If nothing else, the movie reminds filmgoers just how difficult it can be to pull off the multi-thread approach. Sometimes it’s possible to take a spool of yarn and, with care and consistency, knit a stunning creation. “360” looks more like what happens when a cat gets ahold of the ball.
Contains sexuality, nudity and language. In English, French, Russian, German, Portuguese and Arabic with English subtitles.