Right after viewing 360, I sat down at my computer to write my review, and by pure coincidence, I got sidetracked cleaning out a document folder. Inside was a transcript of a conversation from years ago, in which I recounted the sequence in Benjamin Button about the nature of chance. It's almost eerie: not only is 360 essentially a feature-length extrapolation of that very idea, but the fact that I happened to stumble upon a description of that sequence -- which I can say for sure I would not have remembered except for complete chance also serves as a perfect illustration of that very concept.
Scripted by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon), 360 opens with the story of Mirka (Lucia Siposová), who is in the process of setting herself up as an escort to help pay her bills. She is accompanied to the meeting by her sister, Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova), who disapproves of her sister's decision but does not stop it. She muses about a wise man who once said "if you encounter a fork in the road, take it," and what that might mean. As she does, the movie follows Mirka to her first customer, Michael Daly (Jude Law), a married businessman who inadvertently gets talked out of his rendezvous by one of his prospective clients (Moritz Bleibtreu). Michael flies home the next day, where his nervous, unfaithful wife Rose (Rachel Weisz) awaits, and so on, and so forth, across a number of seemingly unconnected characters and events.
Director Fernando Meirelles moves swiftly through the movie's various connections and detours. Each story is snappy and well-paced, and many feature strong performances by the movie's impressive ensemble cast. Anthony Hopkins, most recently seen suffering under a pile of makeup and labored blocking in Hitchcock, gives a surprisingly nice turn as John, a man who is looking for his long-lost daughter. On his plane, he meets Laura (Maria Flor), a woman running away from her cheating boyfriend Rui (Juliano Cazarré) -- the other man in Rose's life -- and the two strike up a brief friendship over the alcohol cart. Later, Laura ends up drinking with Tyler (Ben Foster) in an airport bar while waiting for John to return with hotel vouchers to compensate for snow delays. She is unaware that Tyler is a convicted sex offender, dealing with the public for the first time in years. Finally, a connection between Anna and Sergei (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), the weary assistant to a mobster, has some nice, playful chemistry in it stemming from a charming partial language barrier.
Meirelles and Morgan weave these threads together with relative ease, and the movie is never dull during its 110-minute running time, but it doesn't seem like either of them has a grand point they want to make with the film's lattice of connections. In the "fork in the road" monologue (and in the Button sequence), there's the idea that if one had done one tiny little thing differently -- left a table a minute earlier, chosen a different word, walked down a different street -- that the entire scenario they're in could be different. It sounds more like the premise for something like Run Lola Run, in which multiple scenarios and outcomes based on the cast's tiny decisions are explored and dissected, but no such luck.
As someone who's likely to end up counting Cloud Atlas among the ten best movies of 2012, I have to admit that I don't particularly mind that 360 doesn't build to a big message or express an overarching philosophy with the idea that we affect one another in ways we don't understand. Like Atlas, Meirelles and Morgan appear to feel like the film becomes poetic or artful in its execution, and that the structure of the story is essentially what the movie is about. To that end, 360 is an enjoyable, if not particularly deep experience; although the little decisions we make each day may have a profound impact we'll never comprehend, 360 is unlikely to make much of one, other than an interesting and occasionally charming way to spend two hours.
magnolia offers 360 with its faintly uninspired poster artwork as a cover (why is it always the mediocre efforts that make the jump intact?). AS with any ensemble, the best thing to do is to throw some chopped up pictures of the star-studded cast into a collage-like thing, and then turn it at an angle for maximum effect. You'd think someone would make better use of the circular motif provided by the film, but what can you do. The disc comes in a standard Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
magnolia's 2.35:1 1080p AVC presentation is very strong. The palette of the film is generally muted, but there are definitely some eye-catching colors visible from time to time. Some of the shots exhibit a slight softness, but as the movie was actually shot on film (both 16 and 35mm), this is clearly accurate to the source. The only real quibble is some faint banding, usually thanks to Meirelles' frequent use of shallow depth of field, seen on the backs of blurry heads in the extreme foreground.
360's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is mostly concerned with ambience and environmental effects. As this is an extremely low-key, naturalistic movie, one must listen closely for the excellent balance displayed in a crowded airport bar, or a small classroom used for AA meetings, or the interior of a fancy car. Music is also rendered very well, filling the soundscape with depth and vibrance. A subtle, but pleasing mix. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are provided, as are Spanish subtitles. Note that the subtitles are in addition to burned-in captions for the dialogue in the film that is not in English. Normally, burned-in captions are a no-no, but I do appreciate the artistic value of retaining permanent subs when a movie is intended for English viewers, but contains foreign dialogue.
"Coming Full Circle: The Making of 360" (13:03, HD), is a pretty straightforward making-of featurette with the cast and crew describing the idea behind 360 (or the lack of one, if Morgan is to be believed). The soundbyte interviews from the cast are decent, and the film clips are held to a minimum, but the viewer can safely tune out when they start discussing the plot. Behind-the-Scenes Picture-in-Picture Comparisons (4:23, HD) are a short look at the (literal) filming of a couple of scenes, with the crew in the main frame and the final shots in a window. Faintly interesting, but the extra loses its already minimal value when one of the B-roll clips is obviously not the take shown in the window. The package wraps up with "axs TV: A Look at 360" (4:57, HD), a glossy TV fluff piece that is rendered totally worthless by the longer making-of featurette.
Trailers for Take This Waltz, The Good Doctor, 2 Days in New York, The Queen of Versailles, and a promo for axs.TV (the new iteration of HDNet) play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for 360 is also included.
360 won't unlock the great secrets of the universe with its wisdom and insight, but it contains a laundry list of fine actors in an interesting story that should have no trouble entertaining viewers for two hours. Lightly recommended.
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