Friday 10 August 2012

Circle jerks: "360"

I gather hopes within the industry were high for 360, a Peter Morgan-scripted, Fernando Meirelles-directed, Rachel Weisz-and-Jude Law-starring romantic roundelay when it opened the London Film Festival last October, at which juncture it was met with such a critical fusillade of rotten fruit and vegetables that you could scarcely see the film for the impromptu salad on the screen. Ten months later, the film finally reaches cinemas - well out of the awards season it was expected to inhabit, pushed out altogether tentatively in the dog days of August - and how does it look? Still very, very eggy, I'm afraid: this listless, pointless, recession-oblivious dud stands as an object lesson in how not to do a life's-rich-pageant drama, expecting us to pay to gawp at a set of characters whose sole real quandaries derive from an inability to keep their peckers in their pocket, or their vaginas under wraps.

It opens with some very screenwritery dialogue about forks in the road, then sets about forking us and its chosen players off. Law is a British businessman weighing up whether or not to take his chances with a prostitute whilst at a conference in Eastern Europe; Weisz is the married journalist trying to break off an affair with a photographer colleague; Jamel Debbouze is a lovelorn dentist in Paris, nursing a crush on his nurse; Ben Foster plays a sex offender negotiating his first few hours on release. Hovering over them all - as though waiting for a last-minute upgrade to replace Kevin Spacey in those annoying American Airways ads - is Sir Anthony Hopkins as the kind of chatty, notionally wise old man people pay a premium for not to have to sit next to in economy. Actually, such a breakdown of these dramatic personae is misleading, because it turns out these big names are merely supporting players (if that) in a behind-the-scenes drama involving Russian gangsters that strikes you as an insufferably pretentious and unconvincing rehash of Cronenberg's Eastern Promises.

The first thing you notice, though, is that for a we-are-the-world treatise, 360 is glaringly white. The patriotic Meirelles crowbars a couple of Brazilian actors in there, but they're of the light-skinned variety, Debbouze's faith is thrown away in a couple of cursory prayer montages, and generally you're left amazed and appalled that a project otherwise jetsetting from Denver to Bratislava in the name of globalism shouldn't once think to venture below the equator, or indeed out of its comfort zone of hotel suites and departure lounges. This is what it looks like when our filmmakers spend too much time jollying round the festival circuit, where "write what you know" swiftly becomes "write what you can, wherever you're installed waiting for a connecting flight".

One might at the very least expect a modicum of empty style, but no, the film can't even manage that. Meirelles halfheartedly throws up some split screen in an attempt to prevent the eye from getting bored in these sterile corporate holding zones, while assaulting the ear with several of the worst chosen musical cues in the history of motion-picture scoring. I'm not kidding: it's as though the director has trousered the budget for clearances and gone on a drunken rampage through iTunes, snatching at dire Euro blues and - oh God, shoot me now - Madonna-enabled joke act Gogol Bordello to lay over the workings of the sex trade, and seeking out cheery ringtones with which to counterpoint ostensibly harrowing scenes of marital break-up.

Well, maybe he was trying to drown out the words. Morgan's proven talent is for elaborating upon or around the facts of history; offered a crack at something original and contemporary, he merely gives us waffle (take Hopkins' grandstanding at a support group, which floats apart from the film around it like untethered ham on the space station) or phoney confrontations sparked by character decisions you just don't buy. Why would the modest Brazilian woman invite Foster's grizzled, not to mention disinterested ex-con back to her hotel room within five minutes of striking up awkward small talk in an airport cafe? Even if it was raining, why would the smart young Slovakian girl get into the car of the narky Russian blerk who's just snapped at her in the street? Morgan might say "People do silly things sometimes", to which the only response can be: "Yes, and so do screenwriters."

The splenetic response the film engendered upon its London unveiling could, I suppose, be put down to expectation. We might anticipate that the director of City of God and The Constant Gardener - flashy yet committed works - and the writer of The Deal et al. would have something urgent to communicate about the state of the world, and of the people who inhabit it. Yet the film itself suggests its makers couldn't even make basic character interactions function, let alone offer up a drama capable of piquing and sustaining our interest. Morgan is too busy fascinating himself with what might happen to these characters - those unobserved forks, the roads not taken - which means that for 90 of 360's 110 minutes, nothing does happen; the whole thing's like a demonstration of string theory taking place in the least compelling of all universes. The result counts among 2012's pifflingest non-events: all motion, no meaning, a film so keen to winkle out new angles on This Thing Called Life it forgets to find anything real, novel or substantial to say.

360 opens in selected cinemas from today.

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