Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: "360"

When a director makes a big splash with a debut or with a film that catapults them into new found recognition, an extra amount of scrutiny is thrust upon any following work. Fernando Meirelles has been working as a director since the early 80s, but he didn't make his mark on world cinema until 2002's stunning City of God. Focused on a very singular world - the slums of Rio De Janeiro -  Meirelles turned out a visually striking and relevant film about poverty and crime. Fast forward a decade, and the director has expanded his vision to more than a single city, with incredibly diminished results. Obvious and lacking anything resembling suspense, passion, or insight, 360, the latest film from Meirelles, lives up to its title to the point that it goes almost nowhere.

Inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's play "La Ronde," the film weaves a series of stories across the globe into what one hopes would be quite a powerhouse of a narrative. Unfortunately, the problems in 360 become evident all too clear. Despite some smooth and smartly employed split screen work, many of the characters couldn't be less interesting. Among the ensemble, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz, as a pair of unfaithful spouses, are truly wasted. Law, in particular, is stuck in a small series of scenes that merely exist, without anything there to drive the film from a narrative or thematic standpoint. Other cast members are given more to do, but suffer a similar fate, stuck with story threads that border on being vignettes, which isn't quite the film's goal.

The lone bright spot is Ben Foster, playing a convicted sex offender temporarily on leave. In a critical scene set in an airport hotel, the actor brings an intensity and depth missing from all of the film's other scenes. In that one moment 360 feels alive and filled with some sense of purpose. Unfortunately, once the scene ends, we basically never see Foster again, and the film resumes its unintentional aimlessness. Other performers (other than the big names in the cast) perform capably, yet there's nothing they can do to overcome the writing (a Bulgarian subplot feels particularly empty, despite everything that happens). Peter Morgan's script feels, sadly, like a very rough sketch or first draft, with all of the characters and arcs feeling too distant for the film's own good. 

So when it all comes together for the finale and lives up to its tagline ("Everything comes full circle"), all that's left to do is shrug and say "...and?" 360 seems almost built on a gimmick, to have its narrative come full circle and then, surpriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise, conclude with a scene identical to its opening, albeit with different characters. Though it borders on predictable, there are plenty of films with similar ideas that carry it off well. Here, however, it just feels like an inevitable conclusion to a thoroughly dull affair that feels too long (certainly a lot longer than 2 hours) and too empty to justify its existence. This is one of those films where all of the ideas were down on paper or in someone's head, but never even came close to achieving the proper transition to the screen. Other unsuccessful films like this include 2006's Babel, of which I'm no fan. But that film at least has some emotional resonance, as contrived and manipulative as it is.The methods may be cruddy, but at least there's an attempt to connect to the audience and make them feel. 360, by contrast, runs on autopilot the whole way through, never trying to be anything more than a series of scenes strung together just so it can have a been-there-done-that hack job of an ending.

Grade: D+

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