The ultimate task for multi-layered, ensemble pieces like, say, 'Traffic,' 'Syriana,' 'Babel,' or, in this case, Fernando Meirelles' romantic drama '360,' is that when the film ends, the interweaving storylines need to feel as if they have had some sort of an impact on one another – or, at the very least, a semblance of thematic connectivity running through an otherwise disconnected narrative structure. While it works well in Soderbergh's Academy Award-winning feature, and, less compellingly, in both Stephen Gaghan's similarly constructed effort, and 'Babel,' the latticework of story arcs and character foibles built for Merielles' endeavor completely collapses due to an overabundance of thin contrivances.
In a sense, '360' is a film structured as an intimate look inside the romantic and personal lives of various people from an assortment of different social, economic and ethnic backgrounds. There is definitely a commonality there, but the thread isn't strong enough to truly connect each of these stories; instead, the disparate nature of each character's predicaments overwhelms the film and bogs down the plot in a fractured tale that fails to find any real cohesion. In that regard, the audience is left wondering what the connection really is, as most of the stories seem content simply being a part of the circle, without crafting their own complete tale.
Written by Peter Morgan – screenwriter of films like 'The Queen,' 'Frost/Nixon' and 'The Last King of Scotland – '360' is primarily inspired by 'La Ronde' – a play written by Arthur Schnitzler more than a century ago – which followed the same basic structure of romantically linked individuals and the various machinations that either drew them together, or threatened to tear them apart – and was itself adapted in 1950 by Max Ophüls. As such, there are many things structurally similar between the two films, especially that they both begin and end with the same character – which, in this case, finishes off the story of a Bratislavan prostitute. But transactional sex is thankfully only one facet of Morgan's story, as it aims to cover as many other angles of romantic connectivity (genuine love and otherwise), and the various entanglements that stem from such encounters, as it can possibly manage.
Of course, that's the basic crux of '360,' and other films of its ilk: The idea that all these stories are somehow connected. The trouble is, the way the various characters and situations are linked, or will become linked, is rather predictable, perfunctory and, most of the time, free of any kind of genuine resolution. As mentioned, the film begins with Mirka (Lucia Siposová) embarking on a new career as an Internet sex worker, in order to make a better life for her and her slightly younger sister, Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova). Naturally, she books a meeting with a businessman in from London, played by Jude Law. Law's wife, Rose, played here by Rachel Weisz is having an affair with a young Brazilian who brought his girlfriend, Laura (Maria Flor) to London in search of work. As Laura inevitably discovers the infidelity, she embarks on a post-break-up journey home, and encounters John (Anthony Hopkins), an older man searching for his runaway, and potentially deceased daughter. John is attempting to atone for some sins he committed while a younger, more virulent, drunk and generally untrustworthy man (we know this because he has a lengthy confession via an impromptu AA meeting, which bleeds into yet another character).
While on her journey home, Laura meets Tyler (Ben Foster), a sex offender recently released from prison, on his way to a halfway house in the Midwest. Laura is young and impulsive enough that a brief hookup with a stranger seems like the thing to do. The Laura and Tyler encounter is arguably the most compelling of all the various links in the story's chain. Foster is normally at his best playing pained, unsettling outsiders looking in, and in this case, his desire to resist temptation and to walk the right path is tested almost immediately following his release from prison. It's a tense scene that speaks to Foster's ability as an actor, and at the restraint in both his performance and in Meirelles' desire to walk Tyler right up to the edge. And yet, despite the dramatic tension that cannot be found anywhere else in the film, there's little desire to see more of either character – which works out for the best, as they're each given a brief visual epilogue and then essentially written off.
And, for the most part, that's how Morgan's script treats the rest of the cast and various storylines as well. He favors quick peeks and the allusion of something far grander and comprehensive without offering any actual meaning – which, to be fair, is probably the hook of the film: These relationships are as transitory as the glimpses the audience is given. But knowing that does little to diminish just how slight these various narratives actually are.
Meirelles has infused his film with images of rings and circles – a way to suggest both the connective and global undercurrents of the project – and yet, for all that imagery, and all the insistence that everything and everyone is somehow linked, there's nothing there for the audience to actually latch onto. There is a dearth of material connecting the viewer to what's transpiring on screen, leaving '360' looking as shiny as a new gold ring that, even with its impressive cast, it is just a clever concept encircling a void that's just waiting to be filled.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'360' comes from Magnolia Home Entertainment as a single Blu-ray disc in the standard keep case. The disc includes a standard set of pre-film trailers for other releases from Magnolia, which can actually be circumvented entirely by skipping to the top menu.
Meirelles certainly has his own style, one that carries through with all of his more popular work like 'City of God,' and, unquestionably, 'The Constant Gardener.' There's a hint of cinema verite (especially in 'City of God') that's certainly on display here. As one would expect, that kind of style leads to a distinct look that can sometimes be grainy, sparsely lit and otherwise blunt in its depiction of "the real world." Therefore, the image quality on '360' needs to have the intentions of the director taken into consideration, as the effect on the overall picture is quite substantial, and will likely have as many supporters as it does detractors.
First and foremost, Meirelles captures his European locations with a talented eye – though the American locales like Denver and Phoenix seem to suffer from a case of mistaken identity, as the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport stands in for the Denver International Airport, and stock footage may have been used as a substitute for Phoenix.
Still, the heavy use of natural, or available light can sometimes lessen the overall crispness of the picture. Shot on various film formats (16mm and 35mm) there's substantial grain in certain portions of the movie, which may have been a preference of the director, but the artistic payoff to this seems dubious, at best. Detail is sometimes sacrificed in certain shots that prefer a more naturalistic look, but there are still plenty of examples where fine detail in facial features, or even textural elements manage to be strong.
Contrast is generally good, but there is a pervasive sense that the image is purposely washed out, the color diluted for a colder, bluer tone that actually provides a more cohesive throughline than the film's central theme. It's not as obvious as, say, the Michael Douglas portion of 'Traffic,' but the temperature on most colors does look as though it's been turned down a notch or two. This has the additional effect of making whites bloom somewhat, which further mitigates the image in some respects.
Stylistically speaking, the image of '360' has obviously been managed to a great degree by the artistic intentions of the director. It certainly isn't going to float everyone's boat, but there's enough merit to Meirelles' visual objective that it shouldn't completely derail one's thoughts of how the transfer actually looks.
'360' is a straightforward, dialogue-driven drama that actually benefits a great deal from its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. All of the characters are easy to understand, and their lines come through cleanly – although, obviously, many viewers will be reading their lines more than listening to them. At any rate, some mixes find it difficult to balance the needs of the action on screen with the soundtrack or musical score that's been added to the film. Thankfully, this is not a concern with this mix; dialogue and music are integrated quite well, and never overpower one another.
That means for fans of Tom Waits, and more, the audio track will present something that will truly be music to your ears. Generally speaking, the soundtrack is the highlight of the Blu-ray's audio mix, as it manages to perk up a very dialogue-heavy screenplay. As mentioned above, the balance is very good, so even though most scenes play without any underlying track, the occasional fade-in or out never overwhelms the scene or your speakers.
Additionally, there are some examples of decent surround effects, but the mix never gives the rear channels much of a workout. Atmospheric noise is nominal, at best, but generally manages to craft a convincing sense of place and gives the listener more to experience than merely the dulcet tones of Jude Law or Anthony Hopkins.
While it's not the most impressive mix, there's certainly not a lot that's being asked of it, either. With little in the way of surround, LFE, or other sound effects, '360' relies almost entirely on its presentation of the dialogue and other musical elements.
Fernando Meirelles has certainly made far more impressive films, and while it seems his artistic intentions were in the right place, there just wasn’t enough of a story to justify such attention. As such, the screenplay by Morgan is simply too light and too wispy to substantiate the large, internationally recognizable cast, and the expectations that come along with actors of this caliber. Still, it's pretty clear that a smaller cast likely wouldn't have helped much more than lowering expectations to a more manageable level. In the end, '360' just has too much going on, and not enough to say about any of it. In addition, the film's image may have suffered from being at the mercy of its director, and the result is often times a grainy, washed-out picture that feels colder than it should. Unfortunately, all of these elements add up to a film that's really only suitable for the curious to rent.