Coming just a few years too late to cash in on the “We’re all connected!” genre craze exemplified by Crash and Babel, director Fernando Meirelles and writer Peter Morgan’s 360 is a perfect example of how structure can completely bulldoze humanity and character in a narrative. Supposedly inspired in part by the feverishly exacting romantic roundelays of Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler, 360 hops among a diverse (or “diverse”) set of characters all trying to establish, or re-establish, human connection, often of the sexual or romantic kind. How odd then that a film all about human connections manages to make none of its own.
Much like Schnitzler’s La Ronde (which was more often about sex than not), the story begins and ends with a prostitute. In this case, it’s newcomer Mirka (Lucia Siposova), a Slovak émigré in Vienna who when we meet her is being interviewed by her prospective pimp. Mirka then road-trips with her bookworm sister Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova) to her first appointment, with traveling British businessman Michael (Jude Law). But Mirka and Michael miss their connection thanks to one of his meddling potential business partners. Meanwhile, back home in London, Michael’s magazine art director wife (Rachel Weisz) attempts to cut off her torrid affair with a young Brazilian photographer (Juliano Cazarre). The Brazilian photographer comes home to discover that his girlfriend (Maria Flor) has left him owing to his infidelities. On a plane, the ex-girlfriend runs into an older man (Anthony Hopkins), who is searching for his long-lost daughter. They get snowbound in Denver and decide to have dinner at the airport. But instead, she hooks up with a convicted sex offender (Ben Foster) who has just been released from prison and is about to make his way to a halfway house. Elsewhere, a French-Muslim dentist (Jamel Debbouze) tries to work through his attraction to a married, non-Muslim co-worker (Dinara Drukarova). She, too, has flown to the U.S. — where she runs into Hopkins. And on and on we go.
This director-writer combo is an odd pairing here: Meirelles’s directorial sensibility, as evidenced in his breakthrough film City of God, tends toward the inexact and dreamlike, and Morgan, the celebrated writer of The Queen and Frost/Nixon, specializes in witty, pointed back-and-forth. One wields a watercolor brush, the other a rapier. And yet what this story needs is someone with sensitive shorthand, someone who can create and portray real characters in a few deft strokes without losing any of their human dimension — someone like the great Max Ophuls, whose stylized, heartbreaking film of La Ronde is still the gold standard for this type of thing. Instead, Morgan and Meirelles create something somehow both unforgiving and uncertain, and almost humiliatingly unsatisfying: They’re so intent on making sure the story moves on to the next happy and/or unhappy coincidence that we start to feel played. Just as a character starts to get interesting — just as we begin to wonder what they might be thinking, or what they might do next — they pretty much vanish from the narrative. The film has a great cast, but nobody gets to do anything; it’s like a mixtape of cameos.
That’s not entirely true. Hopkins gets a couple of nice, touching moments, but he appears to have willed them here entirely on his own: He delivers one particularly touching monologue at an AA meeting, utilizing that patented half-distracted singsong delivery of his. His speech is an odd moment in the design of the film, an unlikely bit of thoughtful languor amid all the restless, relentless motion. But it gives us space to think and feel, if only briefly — and it’s the only point in the entire film where we feel like we’ve gained any insight into anybody or anything. And then, of course, it’s on to the next thing. “We’ve come full circle,” a character says at the end. We might wonder if we’ve gone anywhere at all.