First line in 360: “A wise man once said, ‘If there’s a fork in the road, take it.’” Never mind that the wise man was Yogi Berra. Or that the Yankees catcher actually said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Or that his gruff circumlocutions (“It gets late early”; “If I had to live my life over again, I would”) spawned so many honorary Yogiisms that he might not have originated the fork-in-the-road line. (See Berra’s book on the subject: I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!)
The point, in a we’re-all-connected movie like 360, is this: if the screenwriter runs out of story on one character, and he sees someone in an airport restaurant pick up a fork, he tucks away the first character and, with the merest narrative stitching, moves on to the next.
360, from the esteemed team of writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener), is all forks and no food. It wanders from Vienna to Bratislava to Paris to London to Miami to Denver to Phoenix amid a dozen or so people meant to have a fleeting meeting with and a lasting impact on one another. Exchange a brief encounter with a stranger and your life may change, for better or worse; you may find peace or death. And the movie’s producers will find some A-list actors to work for a week or less in an ensemble film that can put Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz and Jude Law on the marquee.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon movie)
Law is Michael, an Englishman on business in Vienna, who has booked an assignation with the Slovenian hooker Mirka (Lucia Siposová) because he’s frustrated in his marriage to Rose (Weisz) and because, what the hell, he’s a businessman in Vienna. Rose is crotch-deep in an affair of her own, with the Brazilian stud Rui (Juliano Cazarré), whose wife Laura (Maria Flor) has been tracking him. In Paris, a Muslim dentist (Jamel Debbouze) is tortured by his unexpressed love for his assistant Valentina (Dinara Drukarova), whose surly husband Sergei (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) takes time out from his job as chauffeur for an underworld boss (Mark Ivanir) to flirt with Mirka’s sister Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova). And where does Hopkins come in? As a grieving father, combing the continents for his vanished daughter. On a flight he meets Laura, on her way home to Brazil, but not before she arranges a quick tryst with Tyler (Ben Foster), a convicted sex offender on his first day out of confinement. Readers who have trouble reading this with a straight face should know that I had the same problem while typing it.
Morgan cites as his inspirations news stories about the global financial collapse triggered by the gnomes at one bank and the ability of a virus to be transported in a day by a person flying from New York to Mongolia. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Papua, New Guinea, not only will it make a sound that reverberates worldwide, but someone will write a script about it.
(FIND: Meirelles’ City of God on the all-TIME 100 Movies list)
And producers will put up the money for it; they figure to duplicate the international success of Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, three films with interwoven plots by the Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Maybe they’ll snag an Academy Award, like the a thoroughly unearned Best Picture Oscar given to another crazy-quilt movie, Crash. Movie moneymen can feel creative just securing the financing for a multinational picture like 360: it boasts six “presenters,” seven producers and 13 production companies. The movie represents, in its purest form, what John Gregory Dunne called Hollywood’s greatest achievement: the art of the deal.
All these films, and 360 in particular, are derived from Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play Reigen, which Max Ophuls filmed in 1950 as La ronde: 10 scenes of lovemaking, each with two characters, the second person in one scene becoming the first in the next. Roguishly displaying the varieties of sexual atttaction and predation, Reigen hides a sour surprise: what the characters have in common at the end is syphilis. Morgan’s script, though ostensibly spurred by matters of disease and financial crimes, is less misanthrope than optimistic. Open to the chance for romance in the oddest places, the movie is closest in tone to Love, Actually, the multicharacter jaunt in which nearly all involved get their Christmas wishes.
(READ Corliss’s on Meirelles’ The Constant Gardner by subscribing to TIME)
Hyper-restless in its visual accouterments (screens that are split horizontally or vertically, dozens of faces reflected in windows and mirrors), 360 is often hypoactive in its narrative. It dawdles over some of the weaker liaisons, such as the ones involving the dentist and his besotted assistant. A wonderful scene — say, Hopkins’ testimony at an AA meeting, so well written and performed that it could serve as a textbook monologue for aspiring actors — must rub shoulders with the patience-testing, wince-worthy meeting of hopeful Laura and the solemn gent we know to be a sex offender.
No scene lasts more than a few minutes, but the overall is effect is being subjected to 105 mins. of YouTube vignettes that someone has chosen. 360 is probably best appreciated or endured on a long flight similar to the one Hopkins takes in the movie. Tune in or out over your dinner; pretend, if you like, that Morgan’s characters are quirky people. They aren’t though; they are a writer’s constructs, at first provocative, finally predictable. Like the fork that usually comes with your airplane meal, 360 is plastic.