Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Movie Review: 360

Directed by: Fernando Meirelles.
Written by: Peter Morgan.
Starring: Lucia Siposová (Mirka), Gabriela Marcinkova (Anna), Johannes Krisch (Rocco), Jude Law (Michael Daly), Jamel Debbouze (Algerian Man), Dinara Drukarova (Valentina), Vladimir Vdovichenkov (Sergei), Rachel Weisz (Rose), Juliano Cazarré (Rui), Maria Flor (Laura), Ben Foster (Tyler), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Fran), Anthony Hopkins (Older Man), Mark Ivanir (The Boss).

It takes talent to make what Roger Ebert has dubbed the “hyperlink” movie, where a series of seemingly unconnected characters and events come together through some tenuous connections. In recent years, we’ve seen some interesting (if not entirely successful) versions of this from Paul Haggis (Crash) and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (Babel, Amores Perros). But the genre has deep roots – Robert Altman was a master at them (especially in Nashville and Short Cuts), and one of his biggest admirers Paul Thomas Anderson gave us a brilliant one (Magnolia). For the new film 360, director Fernando Meirelles and writer Peter Morgan look back even further – to the work of Arthur Schnitzler who wrote La Ronde, which was turned into a film by the great Max Ophuls in 1950. That film, and the play it was based on, takes place in 1900 Vienna, and every scene is a two hander between two lovers – that eventually breaks off and one of the characters moves onto the next scene, with another lover. That whole movie took place in one city, and eventually comes full circle, so that the prostitute played by Simone Signoret is involved in both the first and last scenes of the movie. The key to making La Ronde work was the simplicity of it structure, and because Ophuls never too it too seriously – he knows its slightly ridiculous, and has fun with the concept of drawing together the classes in his stories of love and lust (and it helped to have the great Anton Walbrook be the acid tongued narrator). In 360 having all the action in one city must have seemed too easy – we are in the era of globalization after all – so this film trots the globe, from various European cities to North America and back again. This could have worked, except for the fact that Meirelles and Morgan take the whole damn thing so seriously that the movie turns out mainly to be a long, dull slog. Individual performances and scenes work, but the end result never comes together.

The movie begins in Vienna, where a young Hungarian woman Mirka (Lucia Sipsova) shows up for an audition with a sleazy pimp to become a prostitute. Her first client is a visiting auto executive (Jude Law), whose wife (Rachel Weisz) is having an affair with a Brazilian photographer (Juliano Cazarre), whose girlfriend Laura (Maria Flor) finds out and decides to go home, and meets a grieving father (Anthony Hopkins) on the play, and then a just released sex offender (Ben Foster) while stranded in an airport. Eventually, this will lead back to Europe, and once again the circle is complete.

I suppose this could have worked, but while Ophuls was able to depict the differences between the classes, and make them all equal, while still making a light, breezy comedy, Meirelles and Morgan insist on making this film so serious that it’s deadly. Jude Law can be a good actor, but he seems lifeless in this role – and Weisz isn’t any better as his wife. Every time I think Weisz is moving forward from her normally overly mannered performances (like with her great work in The Deep Blue Sea earlier this year), she takes a step back. More successful is Hopkins, who is saddled with possibly the most clichéd and unbelievable role, but still finds the pain underneath it all to make it seem real. There is no doubt that Maria Flor is a beauty your eyes are instantly drawn to – I just wish she was given a more believable character to play. Ben Foster is his usual twitchy self as the sex offender, and while we’ve seen him do this before – and better – at least he’s interesting. The movie also adds a series of useless characters who simply get in the way – Mariann Jean Baptiste as a social worker, Jamel Debouzze as a Muslim widow struggling with his sexual feelings, who shows up at random early in the film, and then takes more than an hour before he reappears and his reasons for being in the movie become clear and Mark Ivanir as a clichéd sadistic gangster who is annoying in his every moment.

360 also clutters the beautiful simplicity of Schnitzler’s original structure in La Ronde. The film tries to cram too much in – and often times, the intercutting between stories (especially when the movie is in America) quite simply doesn’t work. What’s odd is how easy it would have been to streamline the movie – to simplify it to a point where it would work.

360 is a major disappointment for both Meirelles and Morgan. Meirelles broke through with his brilliant 2002 film City of God, depicting the slums of Rio de Janerio in his native Brazil. Since then he made a very good John LeCarre adaptation in The Constant Gardener, and mistakenly adapted Jose Saramago’s brilliant novel Blindness, and turned it into the best movie version imaginable of a book that should never have been made into a movie. Each of his films seems to have less of the propulsive energy that made City of God so brilliant, and finally in 360, he has made a film so subdued that you just may fall asleep watching it. As for Morgan, he has written some great screenplays in his career – The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Damned United – but like the last film he wrote, the horrible Clint Eastwood film Hereafter, 360 simply proves that perhaps he works better on more narrowly focused films, with fewer characters. When he tries to go big and write one of these “we are all connected” movies, his characters lack focus and depth. There are moments in 360 that work beautifully – especially a moving speech delivered by Hopkins at an AA meeting – but it all adds up to nothing.

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