Wednesday, 12 October 2011

LFF 2011: 360 review

"Pull my finger." "Pull your own finger."

In many ways it’s easy to see why 360 was chosen as the opening film for this year’s LFF – established director, British funding, primarily British cast, lots of nice establishing shots of London – but in other, more important ways, it’s a bit of a headscratcher, seeing as it’s an actively bad film.

Taking the vignette template from other, better movies SHORT CUTS and MAGNOLIA, we follow a bunch of tenuously connected stories about failing and burgeoning relationships in Vienna, Paris, London, and Colorado. They occasionally interlock and overlap, we see bits of Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, and Rachel Weisz, before we – gasp! – come full circle. Helpfully, to make sure we get this whole 'circle' thing - as if the title itself wasn't obvious enough - at the end (VAGUE SPOILERS) first we're shown a direct echo of the opening scene, then the opening voiceover is repeated verbatim, then the title of the film – it’s 360 – pops up on screen: and rotates in a circle. 

The fragmented style of filmmaking employed by the films mentioned has an inherent problem in that because our focus and attention is adjusted from one character to another so rapidly, there is a much shorter amount of time to establish them – as a result, you need to back your vignettes up with some strong writing in order to make us care about them, something that only true cinematic genuises like Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson have the necessary chops to pull off

Unfortunately Peter Morgan, branching out of his comfort zone with a totally Blair-less script, is not in this legendary bracket, and makes an utter hash of the screenplay. Director Fernando Mereilles’ direction isn’t great – it’s hard to believe a film this lifeless came from the man who directed CITY OF GOD, and he clearly edited this film after a caffeine-fuelled Brian De Palma marathon, such is the frequency of split screens – but it’s passable; the script however is where the film capsizes totally.

Obviously the very nature of the premise is reliant on coincidence and as such requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but even taking that into account there are so many improbable moments in 360 that no one clearly even attempted to iron out or give an explanation for, including an absolutely ludicrous scene where a beautiful young girl repeatedly tempts an obviously suspicious man into coming on to her (a rapist who is allowed to travel from prison, by himself, despite still being judged by his therapist as a threat to society, because…er…of an experiment?) in her hotel room, which is as uncomfortable as it is nonsensical.

It’s a real case of characters serving the plot rather than the other way round in 360 – get them introduced then shoehorn them together in order to get to the next theme (religious guilt, grief, lust, greed, temptation) only the film doesn’t have anything new or interesting to say about any of them. It’s also brow-furrowingly serious, with barely a moment of humour or levity in its two hour running time.

One of the few good things about 360, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a lovely turn from Anthony Hopkins, as a loveable old duffer who has been tracing his missing daughter for many years. He does add some genuine heart and humour, and his monologue in the middle of the film about his recent, life-changing encounter with a young girl is easily the film’s highlight – I could watch him relay anecdotes in that avuncular way for hours. Of course, after that scene we never see him again. And, on a slightly shallower note, Rachel Weisz is aging spectacularly well, as a result making her pitifully small ten minutes of screen time some of the most watchable in the film.

There’s a veritable smugness about 360. It clearly thinks it’s saying something profound about the human condition, yet in reality, it has as much depth as the 'It's A Small World' ride at Disneyland.

A poor start to the festival proper, then. But then again, as Peter Morgan’s muse used to be so fond of telling us...

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