3 Stars out of 4
360 begins with a paradox: “if there’s a fork in the road, take it.” What direction? What end? It is uncertain how 360 finds its way across its characters. In the process however, there is a clash of identity, age, and culture through sex – the far from erotic kind – in a world that seems to be shrinking, so we decide to grow close to one another. The film is about relationships but not necessarily love, as emotion seems to be scattered but unfound among us and the intimacies we share with others.
The film is directed by Fernando Meirelles, who has brought two hits to the Toronto International Film Festival: City of God and The Constant Gardner. I don’t envision 360 finding a place on the director’s (or the festival’s) throne of acclaim. It’s a movie that never peaks, climaxes, but keeps on moving in a perpetual, inevitable circle.
360 follows a traditional forking-path narrative, a device that will immediately allude comparison to Paul Haggis’s Crash and Alejandro Inárritu’s Babel. The critics who take that path will find themselves shooting blanks because 360 is very different in how the characters are not meant to change, be unraveled, or to experience a defining moment. They simply encounter each other; some interact, others pass by. Life, in a way, is a series of unannounced interactions and the people we walk by all have a story. We might be able to understand it. Maybe.
I admire Meirelles filmmaking vision, but the base of 360 is just not very complex for a film of this length. Limiting the world to sex feels like the lowest common denominator. But it’s what Meirelles does within the restrictions of his argument that make 360 a more or less unique vision in itself, not of Crash or Babel proportions.
The plot is a series of wavering vignettes, featuring some tight bonds and ones that could be wound. Big names like Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Anthony Hopkins, and Ben Foster disseminate across the vast scale of 360, located in cities such as Vienna, Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio de Janeiro, Denver, and Phoenix – and back again.
All the performances, even by the venerable Hopkins, are small and minor, because their characters are drawn to levels that are purposely slight. Why spare the development? Because people are not spectrums; they can, but do not necessarily, change in the blink of an eye. Some it takes a lifetime. Others die before they witness their transformation.
There is a bit of suspense within the characters in that we don’t know the characters on the surface, so Meirelles wants us to look through them. Take Ben Foster’s powerful performance as a recovering sex addict, as he battles temptation and, by the end of our journey with him, it is inconclusive to whether he is a better man or has receded to his inner demons.
Meirelles crafts 360 without emphasis. No one is directly a hero or villain, as everyone is so relentlessly infected with human flaws. Amidst their failure and dissatisfaction, they resort to sex. Some, like the Slovakian prostitute (Lucia Siposová) abuse such intimacy. Others, like the prostitute’s sister (Gabriela Marcinkova) transforms sex out of its physical orientation in order to share an affection for a driver named Sergei (Vladimir Vdovichenkov). Meirelles knows the world still precipitates with hostility, which leaves a final moment that ought to be a bombastic climax but that tragedy is shown off screen.
360 is not an optimistic or cynical film. It believes people can find good fortune, but regardless the world will persist with crime and malice. No one is inherently good or bad; it’s their actions that dictate their and the film’s consequences. 360 was shot by Adriano Goldman who paints the scenery with washed-out colors. Everything is so familiar and consumed. There is no space for beauty. Time does laps.
Where can our characters go? 360 is about arrivals and departures, especially the latter. The script was written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and you become thankful when you get scenes, such as this one: Hopkins delivers a long, eloquent speech in an Alcohol Anonymous congregation. We anticipate his words to close the scene and define the exposition of 360, like Hopkins did in Amistad. But no. Another woman stands up and tells a story about her problems with alcohol, shattering the emphasis on the British acting veteran. I suppose I have a soft spot for films that aren’t about celebrating the image of its actors, but the pace of its world. 360 is one of those films.
Written live at the Toronto International Film Festival.