What goes “La Ronde” comes around in Fernando Meirelles’ “360,” a circular study of modern couplings that expands the inquiry of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play to a global scale without finding much new to say about love. With a multilingual cast of mostly unfamiliar faces, plus a few stars, “360” feels too abstract, orchestrating break-ups and hook-ups in a passionless vacuum. For screenwriter Peter Morgan, it’s the same problem that plagued “Hereafter” spread across an even more unwieldy ensemble. International prospects look good, though it’s hard to imagine a U.S. outfit taking it for a high-priced spin.
Opening in Vienna, where Schnitzler set his play, “360” may have been inspired by “La Ronde” — a work that has been adapted by Max Ophuls, Roger Vadim and countless stage directors before — but it abandons the source’s structure. Instead of cycling through couples, where one member of each encounter leads to the next, Morgan’s script appears to adopt the grand-canvas, intersecting-lives template employed everywhere from “Crash” to the Robert Altman oeuvre.
But the pic’s ever-revolving characters scarcely rise above the level of thin sketches — a problem that presents itself from the opening scene, in which a photographer/pimp (Johannes Krisch) demands special favors from a Slovakian woman (Lucia Siposova) looking to break into the high-end escort business, and persists to its disappointingly pat ending. What “360” needs are some 180-degree moments — scenes that take an unexpected turn from the direction in which we know they’re headed. Instead, the various recycled encounters feel so familiar and on-the-nose that we can predict pretty much where everything is going from the outset.
The hooker’s first client is married British businessman Michael Daly (Jude Law), who of course speaks to his daughter by cell phone from the bar where he’s arranged to meet his call girl. Back in London, his wife, Rose (Rachel Weisz), is trying to break things off with her Brazilian lover, Rui (Juliano Cazarre), whose tomcat antics have finally become too much for g.f. Laura (Maria Flor). She, in turn, hops the first flight back to Rio, only to be grounded in Denver, where she connects first with a grieving older man (Anthony Hopkins) and later with a convicted sex offender (Ben Foster) just out of prison.
Despite the overall quality of the cast, none of the actors gets more than a few scenes in which to wrestle a real person out of scant details. Somehow, Hopkins manages to score an entire monologue, delivered in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where the character finds opportunity to articulate a personal epiphany; Foster also gets a solo in which he pantomimes a near-breakdown.
Otherwise, Meirelles keeps the emotions at a low boil, allowing other aspects of modern interaction to upstage the interpersonal connection. Mass transit factors as a recurring motif, not only enabling people to get away from their loved ones but also allowing strangers to meet en route to a common destination. Along the same lines, cell phones both collapse the distance between partners and create intriguing opportunities for betrayal. There are enough interesting dynamics to be found in those two elements alone; someone should make a movie about them.
Instead, the filmmakers seem fixated on the idea of how characters deal with metaphorical forks in the road, opening and closing “360” with voiceover from the hooker’s sister (Gabriela Marcinkova) about how decisions make the world go around. A pair of Paris-based subplots illustrate that idea: A lovestruck Algerian man (Jamel Debbouze) nurses a secret crush on a married Russian co-worker (Dinara Drukarova), who opens up new romantic possibilities, both personally and for her distracted husband (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), when she requests a divorce. Each has the opportunity to decide his own fate, if you ignore the fact that the script denies happiness to the characters auds most want to succeed.
It’s virtually impossible for the cast to remain plausible going through the paces of such a conceptually on-message movie. No doubt a more stylized approach would have served “360” better than Meirelles’ muted, naturalistic touch, which eschews beauty shots in favor of more mundane commuter views of the film’s many enviable locations — London, Paris, Vienna, Minneapolis and Rio de Janeiro.
A glitch in the sound system at the film’s Toronto Film Festival premiere resulted in a low vibration humming beneath the last half hour of the film, actually adding a welcome dramatic tension. Considering the odd mix of languages and accents, some snatches of dialogue (like anything Cazarre says) were also hard to make out.