For all the glum punditry about our brave new world of connected disconnection, there are endless possibilities for free play — though you'd never know it from the sorry crew of malcontents in 360, an ambitious post-millennial take on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde.
These walking wounded are playing hard, mostly with fire, as they lust after love or money or both. But they're having precious little fun as they roam a borderless new Europe, rendered gray and gloomy by the camera of Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles. Separately and together, their unhappiness is doubtless the point, and though the absence of rosy cine-tourism is refreshing, the movie makes for joyless viewing, big stars and all.
Meirelles, who made the exciting City of God and The Constant Gardener, has visual flair to burn. But he's less comfortable with inner lives than he is with feverish physical motion, and though the film is meant as a meditation on love and the post-modern psyche, it's shot like a thriller.
The opening sequence in Vienna, in which a young Slovakian woman (Lucia Siposova) disrobes under orders from an unseen pimp, unfolds with such implicit menace that you expect her to take a bullet to the head at any moment. And when Michael (Jude Law), a married British businessman on his way to meet the fledgling hooker, has his cover blown by a conniving client (Moritz Bleibtreu), there's so much gathering dread that you wait for a flying iPhone to land on the would-be philanderer's head.
The conceit is that when someone sneezes in Vienna, it's felt — through hi-tech avenues — as the existential flu in London, Paris and Bratislava, with detours to Denver and Rio. While Michael prepares to cheat on his wife (Rachel Weisz), back in London she's lovelessly trysting with a hot young Brazilian photographer on the make. The photographer's girlfriend (Maria Flor) finds out and hops a plane, where she meets a weary frequent flier (Anthony Hopkins) who confides that he's haunted by guilt as he tries to track down his missing daughter. Grounded by snow in Denver, the two arrange to meet for a meal, a plan that's derailed by an encounter with a nervous sex offender (a very good Ben Foster) on his first outing from prison. And so to Paris, where a Muslim dentist (Jamel Debbuze) agonizes over his beautiful Russian assistant (Dinara Drukarova), who returns his affections even as she tries to breathe life into her failing long-distance marriage to a stolid procurer for a tyrannical oligarch — who turns out to run the Internet prostitution ring for which Blanca auditioned in the opening scenes.
360 has an international cast and a driving transnational soundtrack. The dialogue comes in multiple subtitled languages, but it's a tower of babble, most of it vaguely depressed, occasionally clever but not nearly as mordantly witty as you might expect from Peter Morgan, who also wrote The Queen and Frost/Nixon.
We are asked to believe that these people have lost their way in a rootless world. Yet they seem so lethargic, so unmotivated and disconnected even from their disconnected habitat, that it's hard to feel their pain, let alone their redemption as they lumber past 180 degrees to the circular home stretch, where, inevitably, new lives are forged and old ties are treasured anew.
In fact, their transgressions are as old as the hills, and if you're looking for tales of globe-trotting alienation, John le Carre told them much more skillfully. The dour miseries of his Europe, ravaged by war and soured by dictatorship, were entirely organic. The global village of today may be fragmented and confusing, but it doesn't lack for color or fun. Yet as love stories go, 360 feels downright Soviet.
Why the long face? On each successive visit to my home town of London, I find a formerly insular and hidebound city that now seethes with playful vitality and innovation, much of it juiced precisely by throwing open its borders to temporary and permanent migrants from all over. For a really good time, power up for another look at Danny Boyle's enchanting opening ceremony to the Olympic games — a high-spirited believer's ode to the metropolis' past, present and future.