Since his audacious gangster film debut “City of God” made him an instant art house sensation in 2002, director Fernando Meirelles has tackled one heavy subject after another in what has felt like a desperate attempt to be taken seriously as an artist. In turn, Meirelles’s films have been defined by a troubling self-seriousness that has only gotten worse with time, including to some extent his mostly riveting drama “The Constant Gardener.” This strain of pretentiousness finally reaches critical mass in the director’s latest multi-character drama “360,” a meandering “serious” mosaic that tries to make sense of the world’s many social ills by flooding the frame with pedantic assertions and overt symbolism about human nature.
The tedious narrative daisy chain begins with a young Slovakian woman posing for nude photographs in some thug’s nasty hideaway, getting her embroiled in a shady sex trade operation that foreshadows disaster a mile away. Through sheer chance and contrivance, this subplot leads to another semi-related story of crisis, and then another, and then another. There’s a British businessman (Jude Law) who’s unhappily married to an advertising executive (Rachel Weisz), a troubled Brazilian woman (Maria Flor) marooned in the Denver airport with a forlorn elderly man (Anthony Hopkins) and a semi-reformed sex offender (Ben Foster), an emotionally conflicted Algerian dentist (Jamel Debbouze) living in Paris, and a Russian gangster (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) ready to make a life change.
While Peter Morgan’s script initially exhibits an intriguing seamlessness, merging storylines with an effortless quality that plays to the mystery of real life chance occurrences, “360” quickly turns into a tired example of multi-story pandering. Every vignette feels undercooked and dramatically inert, inevitably spread thin due to the time constraints of the globetrotting structure. Themes of adultery, repression, and forgiveness are framed in simplistic ways throughout “360,” as if the film is a highbrow version of an after-school special. That Meirelles and Morgan bookend the film with tidy parallels about comeuppance and fate makes this extended bit of cinematic lecturing even more problematic. By the end, “360” makes Paul Haggis’s “Crash” look subtle by comparison.
“360” is currently playing in limited theatrical release and on multiple Video On Demand platforms, including Amazon Instant Video.