'360' Goes in Tiresome Circles
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
"360," the new film from the director of "City of God" and "The Constant Gardener," arrives under this reviewer's transom with a fair amount of baggage, including a lot of negative reviews from its debut at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and a reaction to the negative reviews from said director, Fernando Meirelles. Apparently one of the reviews of the film upset its screenwriter, Peter Morgan, to the extent that he confided to Meirelles that he was considering giving up writing, and Meirelles concluded that any review that could solicit such a reaction could only be considered "perverse," "destructive" and "irresponsible."
Now, while I am of the not-entirely-uninformed opinion that no screenwriter of Peter Morgan's track record ("The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon," among others) and earning potential is going to turn his back on the vocation before close consultation with his agent, his attorney and his tax accountant, I do understand that writers are sensitive beings (I myself could be considered a species of writer). So rather than out-and-out upbraid Morgan -- and Meirelles, who shares a good deal of the blame here -- I shall offer some possibly too-late but not insincere advice, if I may, and if it won't matter to Morgan and Meirelles per se, maybe it'll register with other future artists reading: Next time an urge strikes you to update Arthur Schnitzler's "La Ronde" -- the theatrical work about the circle of love that begins with the soldier and the prostitute and then goes round robin following each of its coupled characters in turn until the last dude ends up with the prostitute again -- resist that urge. The conceit, which was corny the first time and which worked only because of Schnitzler's perception and genius, has run its course, no matter how well you think you can spice it up with observations on how technologies like Skype and smartphones make human connections both all the more immediate and, oh irony of ironies, all the more tenuous.
Yes, a movie close to the film's opening -- in which a pair of hustling auto parts manufacturers/salesmen (Moritz Bleibtreu and Morgan himself) waylay Jude Law's contemplating-philandering exec in a Vienna bar, see a hottie waiting at the bar, and use an iPhone to learn that, just as they suspected, she's a cyber-hooker waiting for a client, the client being, unbeknownst to them, Law -- is pretty clever but not staggeringly so. More crucially, it makes its point about contemporary connectivity and its relation to alienation. Only problem is, that's a point that Meirelles and Morgan insist on hammering at throughout, and it gets more than tiresome.
Moving from Vienna to London, it finds Rachel Weisz's old media editor bedding down a hot photographer, which leads to his Brazilian girlfriend ditching him. As we follow their stories, we learn that Weisz and Law's characters are married to each other, and once again the Schnitzlerean "Everybody cheats" conceit is slammed against the wall of the why-are-these-impossibly-attractive-movie-star-types-so-moved-to-stray-from-each-other question. And so it goes, with Meirelles compounding the clichés by underscoring every emotional "beat" with a "perfectly" chosen invariably precious alt-pop or rock song (the gravelly voice of Tom Waits is trotted out to signal profundity fairly early on) and doing a lot of split-screen work to box in each character in a lonely wireless anti-womb. Oh, the Weltschmerz.
Every now and then, an individual actor is given a nice juicy Morgan speech or dialogue passage to invest some emotion in, and makes the most of it, although I must say Anthony Hopkins delivers his AA meeting soliloquy with such seeming naturalness I wonder if it wasn't partially improvised. In any event, acting if not philosophy it's the film's highlight. The film's nadir is an opportunistic and meretricious released-rapist story thread starring Ben Foster at his most tic-infested, a scenario that manages to misapprehend both the nature of sex offenders and offenses and Southern U.S. citizens with equal near-offensiveness. That said, I hope Morgan doesn't give up writing, and I do hope Meirelles gives up trying to be Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.