Directed by Fernando Meirelles.
Starring Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Lucia Siposová, Ben Foster, Vladimir Vdovichenkov and Moritz Bleibtreu.
An international look at what happens when partners from different social backgrounds engage in physical relationships, that ultimately intersect and interact.
360 is a drama of ambitious scope, that skips through themes like heartbreak, desire and the importance of seizing the day during its globe-trotting runtime. It sets out with the grand intention of taking us on a tour of modern love and sex, aiming to unmask the universal reality of it all, by contrasting struggling prostitutes with high flying business types, and ultimately concluding that they all have their interacting problems of infidelity, lust and broken trust. The film comes in under the two-hour mark, this is not an overly lengthy essay, and yet it is perhaps extremely telling that I found my mind wandering vaguely towards, of all people, former Prime Minister Tony Blair at various points during this supposedly romantic international ensemble.
Why did Tony pop into my head? Well I think it was because, bizarre as it sounds, Tony Blair played a role in Peter Morgan’s thinking, too, as he penned the script for 360. Morgan has of course made a career out of writing screenplays about real people, whether it’s legendary football manager Brian Clough in The Damned United or Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. However, it’s Blair who has really fascinated the writer. Morgan has written three scripts featuring Blair; The Deal, The Queen and The Special Relationship, and Michael Sheen has played the controversial political figure in each of those productions. So between them, Morgan and Sheen have certainly made money out of portraying Blair’s toxic legacy. In 360 though, an original script with fictitious characters entirely of Morgan’s own creation, the writer engages with some of the substance of Blair’s ideas about the modern, interconnected world we now live in. In The Special Relationship, Morgan documented the key moments surrounding the Kosovo crisis that led to Blair arguing for a more proactive foreign policy; injustice in one part of the world, if left untouched, was likely to spread. In 360, Morgan argues that in today’s world our romantic missteps now have international ripples and repercussions, too.
Of course, Morgan may not have thought a great deal about Tony Blair or grand theories of globalisation when writing 360. That’s just my strained and convoluted theory, based on my own restless thoughts. But the fact is that 360 did not engage my total attention, because it comes across as having high and mighty goals. It groans under the weight of its own purpose and imagined significance. Morgan picks a canvas so vast that the intricate details of the story, the very things that might convince us of his thesis, are neglected. This film is all about the messy symmetry of modern life and how things are prone to complicated entanglements now, more so than ever before. For it to work, it needed to convince at every single turn. Too often though, Morgan’s characters feel like puppets rather than people, jerked into implausible positions in order to fit his overall picture.
360 tells ten different, overlapping stories. Several of these narrative strands could have been shortened or chopped altogether. Frustratingly, some strands show tremendous promise but are visited infrequently, at the expense of pointless, meandering speeches from Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal, Thor: The Dark World) or supposedly menacing encounters with a reforming sex offender. Again, 360 suffers from trying too hard to be international. Its more interesting stories are based in Europe and the moment, about halfway through the film, where the action switches to several characters in America, feels forced. The characters we find at Denver airport are all less interesting than the ones we have already been introduced to. Hopkins’ character in particular, who is searching for the missing daughter who fled when she discovered his affair, has no narrative arc. He is simply a kind, weary old man, and it’s frankly dull to watch his clichéd musings about only living once.
The best moments in 360 appear to occur independently of the script’s grand vision. Director Fernando Meirelles, the man behind the acclaimed City of God, talks candidly in a short interview on the DVD extras about his methods. He says that he does not like to storyboard scenes and that he simply works with the locations and the actors on the day of the shoot. 360 looks fresh and alive, the cities it visits are all shot beautifully, so that at times you feel as though you are there on the streets. You can rarely fault the technical execution of the film. Meirelles also reveals that one of my favourite scenes in the movie, a love scene between Rachel Weisz (Oz: The Great and Powerful, The Bourne Legacy) and her Brazilian lover, was largely improvised. The fact that this scene was expanded from just a few short lines of dialogue in the script did not surprise me on reflection, as it feels so tonally different from the rest of the film. It is telling that Morgan saw this as a throwaway scene to advance the plot, but Meirelles and talented actors like Weisz saw its potential.
In the scene, Weisz’s character arrives at the apartment of her lover, a Brazilian photographer. She is there with the intention of calling off their affair, as she is married to Jude Law’s (Contagion, Side Effects) character (Law and Weisz play intriguing characters separately but their marriage is annoyingly never analysed in much depth). When faced with her young lover however, fresh out of the shower, she finds it much harder to hold her resolve and do the right thing in the flesh. On the page, this scene can sound cheesy and like any other love scene. The quality of the performances though means that we get an incredibly natural scene, light on dialogue but heavy on chemistry and convincing sexual tension.
Scenes like this, which feel like real moments and memories we can all relate to, are far more powerful and convincing about the messy reality of love than the entirety of the sprawling web Morgan’s script weaves together. Sadly, these moments of genuine complexity are rare in the film. I am a huge fan of novels and films with multiple narrative strands, perhaps because I have a short attention span, or perhaps because I admire the skill it requires to quickly establish a character in just a few brush strokes. I’m also a fan of Peter Morgan’s previous work, and Meirelles’ abilities as a director. However, in 360 their ambitions do not translate into a coherent or satisfying final film.
360 opened the London Film Festival in 2011 and went on to receive a disappointing response from critics. It has been around for a long time and finally makes it onto DVD in 2013. Unfortunately, it is not really worth the wait. The most compelling reason to watch it is to be intrigued by its failure.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★