By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
“City of God” director Fernando Meirelles keeps a half-dozen or so plots spinning in “360,” an irresistibly engrossing collection of tales that range from trashy to tragic. From a pragmatic Eastern European prostitute to a bereaved father in Phoenix to a mobster’s wheelman in Paris, there are more interesting characters in this movie than in most entire multiplexes.
Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”), who seems incapable of writing an uninteresting screenplay, has concocted a series of special relationships that interconnect internationally.
Slovakian call girl Mirka (Lucia Siposova), who commutes from Bratislava to Vienna to hook up with clients, tells her pimp that her tag-along sister Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova) has too much heart to go into the profession. The film crosses continents before returning to the sisters, whose encounters with two very different men will change their destinies.
Rachel Weisz (who won a supporting actress Oscar for her role in Meirelles’ “The Constant Gardener”) and Jude Law are well-to-do British couple Michael and Rose Daly, who mutually regret their secret extramarital activities. Their story refreshingly lacks any showdown histrionics, as both spouses deal with setting things right while keeping their transgressions to themselves. Both underplay their parts perfectly, with surprisingly little dialog that ends up being just enough.
Rose’s boy-toy’s girlfriend Laura (Maria Flor) leaves London for her native Rio when she finds out about the affair. Her flight’s stopover in Denver seems geographically improbable, but not as unlikely as Maria’s lust for a strangely miscast Ben Foster. While Foster is believably creepy as an incognito sex offender on his way from prison to a halfway house, the character also is supposed to be irresistible enough to inspire one-night-stand lust in the unaware Brazilian beauty. Still, their will-he-or-won’t-he relationship is undeniably suspenseful.
Laura also is befriended by John (Anthony Hopkins), a much older airline passenger on his way to identify a body that may be his missing daughter. The Hopkins segment is the only one that doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the stories, which have at least the suggestion of sexual tension. John’s hovering concern for Laura is of the too little, too late fatherly variety.
The closest thing to light romance in the movie is a bittersweet segment about a timid Muslim dentist (“Amelie”‘s Jamel Debbouze) and his married hygienist (Dinara Drukarova), who secretly yearn for each other. Both actors are excellent at conveying a sweetly tentative hopefulness that makes it impossible not to root for them.
Other characters, each as well drawn and interesting as the rest, include a trusting therapist, a gun-toting gangster and a blackmailing businessman. Meirelles keeps the visuals interesting with occasional split frames, some interesting airplane shots and a fondness for reflective surfaces. A scene in which Foster’s sex offender purposely brushes against strangers in an airport to make surreptitious contact is brief but chilling.
One of the movie’s few technical drawbacks is a sometimes intrusively loud “songtrack” score, but that’s a minor flaw.
The gimmick of giving each cast member a connection to another that eventually leads back to where “360” began is well executed enough to seem more clever than contrived. As the innocent but not entirely naive Anna announces near the end of the film, “We’ve come full circle.” With characters this well-rounded, the trip has been a pleasure.