“City of God” and “The Constant Gardener” director Fernando Meirelles returns with “360”, his highly anticipated new outing, fittingly chosen as the opening film of the 2011 London Film Festival. Using Arthur Schnitzler’s classic play “Reigen” (“La Ronde”) as its starting point, the film features a script from acclaimed writer Peter Morgan (“The Queen”, “Frost/Nixon”) and revolves around several intertwining tales of love, life and infidelity. Behind the camera luminaries and globe-hopping locations aside, the film’s main draw is its stellar ensemble cast, which boasts amongst its number Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Jamel Debbouze, Ben Foster, Moritz Bleibtreu and the inimitable Anthony Hopkins.
Taking place in a variety of cities across the world including Vienna, Bratislava, Paris, London, Rio, Phoenix and Denver, the film follows several couples as they face up to life changing choices, and a series of strangers who make powerful chance connections, their various stories gradually converging, Initially, these include a young Slovakian woman beginning work as a prostitute as a means of escaping poverty, a businessman tempted by extra marital sex, a Muslim widower tormented by his love for a married co-worker and a man travelling around in search of his long missing daughter. Soon, fate intervenes, and the characters lives overlap, colliding in passionate, hope inspiring and tragic fashion.
Unsurprisingly, “360” is an exceptionally accomplished and well-crafted film, with Meirelles continuing to evolve into one of the most impressive directors working in the world today. In visual terms, the film is absolutely stunning, shot in his usual naturalistic style and painted in subtle, subdued colours and making wonderful use of its many locations to give a truly global feel than neatly underlines its humanistic ambitions. The composition of many shots is breathtakingly gorgeous, and the film features some truly original editing and split screen work that allows it to flow and move gracefully throughout. With a surprisingly economic running time of less than two hours, the film is well paced and packs in a great deal of drama, benefitting from several tense set pieces and a few flashes of violence.
Perhaps more importantly, Meirelles again proves himself extremely capable when it comes to getting best from his cast, with most of the stars giving their most believable and heartfelt performances for some time. Anthony Hopkins in particular in on top form, which comes as rather a relief after some of his more ripe recent showings in “The Rite”, “Thor” and “The Wolfman” to name but a few, and is here utterly convincing and compelling as the grief stricken father coming to terms with fact that his daughter is most likely dead, or at least out of his life. Although pretty much everyone acquits themselves very well indeed, also worthy of note are Ben Foster as a sex offender trying to overcome his demons, and Jamel Debbouze and Russian actor Vladimir Vdovichenkov, who between the two of them provide the film with its most surprising and delightfully moving moments.
However, the film does have its flaws, chief amongst which is an overall air of familiarity, as for all its thoughtfulness and emotional ruminations on the human condition, it’s kind of hard to get away from the fact that it is yet another story of initially disparate characters slowly being revealed to be connected. Whatever the viewer’s feelings on fate, the film does feel a bit artificial, and since it quickly becomes clear that by the end most of the various narrative threads will have been knotted together, it’s all too easy to spend the rest of the running time trying to guess how screenwriter Morgan will contrive to achieve this. Whilst the script is solid and does a reasonable job of holding the interest, some parts inevitably feel underdeveloped (the subplot involving Jude Law and Rachel Weisz in particular), and though the film is at times oddly moralising, it lacks any real sense of point and purpose.
This isn’t enough to sink the film, and thanks mainly to the talents of Fernando Meirelles and the prestigious cast, “360” is a very enjoyable and worthwhile experience, if one that never quite convinces or manages to be as deep as its ambitions suggest. Certainly, although another solid entry on Meirelles’ CV, it’s clearly time for the brilliant helmer to try something a little different, or run the risk of simply repeating himself.
Fernando Meirelles (director) / Peter Morgan (screenplay), Arthur Schnitzler (play)
CAST: Rachel Weisz … Rose
Ben Foster … Tyler
Gabriela Marcinkova … Anna