As the title implies, 360 tells a story that goes full circle, beginning and ending with a sleazy Austrian pimp named Rocco (Johannes Krisch) taking pictures of young prostitutes for his website, which caters to wealthy businessmen seeking female companionship. In between these moments are various story strands that span several countries, feature various characters, and are freely woven together. It was ambitious, and to a degree successful, although it’s clear to me that director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Peter Morgan were overreaching. The scope of the film is just a little too broad; we’re so inundated with characters and subplots that keeping track of them all becomes rather difficult. It doesn’t help that certain subplots are given ample attention while others are quietly introduced and allowed to slowly fade into the background.
The saving grace is that each subplot is well cast, wonderfully performed, and highly compelling. There were specific stories that were rich enough, I felt, for their own individual films. As it is, we see many great beginnings but only a few great conclusions. Let’s begin in Rocco’s studio. We meet a Slovakian woman named Mirka (Lucia Siposova), who’s first seen nervously posing topless for a photo shoot and speaking broken English. Adopting the professional name Blanca, she clearly sees prostitution as a mere stepping stone towards a better life, not just for herself but also for her sister, Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova), with whom she’s very close. Mirka very nearly has a liaison with a British businessman named Michael Daly (Jude Law), but he backs out of it when approached by the two salesmen he’s trying to close a deal with.
Back in London, Michael’s wife, a photojournalist named Rose (Rachel Weisz), is trying to end the affair she has been having with a young Brazilian photographer named Rui (Juliano Cazarré), who seems to genuinely love her and yet may also be using her to advance his career. When Rose and Michael reunite, it’s obvious that both are decent but flawed people who have lost the ability to communicate with one another. They both want to do right by their little girl, who they both adore. Meanwhile, Rui’s girlfriend, Laura (Maria Flor), has learned of his unfaithfulness and decides to return without him to her native Brazil, where she had a job, family, and friends. On the plane ride, she meets a recovering alcoholic named John (Anthony Hopkins); he’s on his way to a Phoenix mortuary to determine whether or not the body of a woman belongs to his daughter, who has been missing for years and is presumed dead.
The plane makes a stop a Denver, where snowy conditions have delayed or cancelled all outgoing flights. Laura and John were scheduled to have dinner in one of the terminal’s restaurants, but she’s sidetracked by a man named Tyler (Ben Foster). A little drunk and vulnerable following her recent breakup, she flirts with Tyler, unaware that he’s a registered sex offender who has just finished a six-year prison sentence and is ready to start life anew in Louisville. If I had to choose just one subplot as the most deserving of its own film, Tyler’s would be it; rather than a sadistic monster, we see a genuinely sick man who knows he has uncontrollable urges and is desperately trying to resist them. There are several great scenes of him calling his therapist (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) in a controlled panic, fearing that his body will once again fail his emotions.
In France, we meet a dentist of Algerian decent (Jamel Debbouze) who has secretly fallen in love with his assistant, a Russian named Valentina (Dinara Drukarova). A practicing Muslim, the dentist is tormented by his feelings, for he knows that Valentina is a married woman. He seeks the help of a therapist, who eventually tells him that he has a choice to make: He must either ignore the fact that she’s married or come to terms with his Islamic beliefs. What he doesn’t realize is that Valentina has feelings for him as well, and that her marriage has long since fallen apart. Here enters her husband, Sergei (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), the driver and bodyguard for a cruel, verbally abusive businessman. He drives his boss to Vienna for a liaison with Mirka. Although cold and distant towards Valentina, he strikes up a friendship with Anna as they wait for Mirka to finish.
Although some of the story strands are entwined a little too conveniently, all of them are decent narratives in and of themselves. Through each of them, you can see what the filmmakers were aiming for thematically; 360 is the story of people who by and large want to do right by themselves and by others. This doesn’t mean that they don’t make mistakes along the way, nor does this mean that everyone is destined for a happy ending. It’s common knowledge that no one is perfect, and yet it’s always refreshing when a film takes the time to remind us of that. The film is not a complete success – too many characters, too many storylines, not enough time for some to develop fully – but the casting was spot on, the performances were believable, the dialogue was convincing, and the intentions of the filmmakers were admirable.