Fernando Meirelles' 360 is based on Arthur Schnitzler's play Reigen (better known as La Ronde) which was already filmed with consummate wit and elegance by Max Ophüls in 1950, but you probably wouldn't guess that from watching this bloated version. Instead of reminding us of La Ronde – in which a series of relationships drive the plot, eventually circling back to the couple that opened the film – 360 just recalls the other multi-character, multi-narrative films that have hit cinemas in recent years. If you have the chutzpah and intelligence of a PT Anderson or Robert Altman orchestrating a clutch of criss-crossing storylines, then you might end up with a Magnolia or Short Cuts, but the majority of these pictures end up like Babel or Crash – empty contrivance combined with self-importance. Guess where 360 lands on the spectrum.
Believe it or not, 360 is even worse than Crash, because while Crash tended to beat the audience over the head with its points about racism, at least it had points to make. I don't know what the various mundane situations screenwriter Peter Morgan has dreamed up for his equally mundane collection of characters is supposed to signify – love makes the world go round, I guess, or something equally trite.
Morgan (who appears utterly lost when daring to venture outside the safe boundaries of the biopic) begins his globetrotting tale in Vienna, where a businessman (Jude Law) has booked the services of a prostitute (Lucia Sipasova), while his wife (Rachel Weisz), back in London, is hooking up with a Brazilian photographer. When the photographer's girlfriend (Maria Flore) discovers his infidelity, she embarks on a journey back to Brazil, during which she continues to display excellent taste in men by becoming friends with recovering alcoholic Anthony Hopkins and paroled sex offender Ben Foster. Meanwhile, Parisian dentist Jamel Debbouze is harbouring a crush on his Russian assistant (Dinara Drukarova) whose husband – a gangster's driver and general dogsbody – is about to drive to Vienna where he will meet up with the sister of the prostitute who we began the story with.
It would take a screenwriter of rare skill to tie those narrative strands together without making the movie feel false and schematic, but Morgan flounders almost immediately. His storylines are reliant on his characters making various stupid decisions at key moments, like the fragrant Laura's utterly inexplicable desire to invite the sweaty, nervous and aggressive ex-con back to her hotel room, where she fails to get the sex offender into bed (yes, it plays as ridiculously as it sounds). Morgan's dialogue is truly pitiful, clumsily reaffirming the film's themes and structure at regular intervals – "A wise man once said; if there’s a fork in the road, take it" is one example, while another character actually says "we've come full circle" after driving around an Austrian ring road. Anthony Hopkins, who spends much of the film wandering around an airport looking confused, tries his best to sell the big AA meeting speech Morgan provides him with, but it just sounds like another clunky piece of screenwriting shoehorned into the picture.
The actors can't impress because they are lumbered playing characters whom Morgan and Meirelles clearly don't give a damn about. This is evident in the way story threads are carelessly discarded – Law and Weisz disappear from the film for ages before popping up for the insultingly glib ending; I have no idea what happened to that Brazilian guy – and how one-dimensional each characterisation is. Speaking of Brazilians Missing in Action; what happened to the filmmaker who directed City of God? With every film Meirelles makes, Kátia Lund's co-direction on that 2002 picture appears ever more vital. Here the director resorts to banal symbolism (shooting endlessly in mirrors) and his attempts to link scenes in creative ways misfire spectacularly – the little toy plane circling Jamel Debbouze's head being an unintentional comedic highlight. He seems to have as little idea as anyone about what exactly the point of this film is, and he ends up dragging us in circles, while we beg for a fork in the road so we can make our escape.