There are probably very few serious movie fans who haven't played the parlor game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," in which someone names an actor and the player has to connect that performer to Kevin Bacon through others he or she has worked with in six moves or less. (For example, if you were given Keanu Reeves, you could link him to Bacon in three moves -- Reeves and Dennis Hopper worked together in Speed, Hopper co-starred with Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, and Nicholson appeared in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon.) The notion that folks with seemingly nothing in common can be linked by their shared acquaintances is hardly limited to the star of Apollo 13 and Mystic River; Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy first posited the sociological notion of "six degrees of separation" in 1929, and Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler followed the unlikely connections between ten people linked by their romantic partners in his drama La Ronde, which, since premiering in 1920, has prompted several direct film adaptations and inspired many other variations on the same theme.
Director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Peter Morgan have revisited the concept of how love, friendship, and even casual acquaintances can bring people together in unexpected ways in the movie 360, but love and sex have only so much to do with the stories they tell in this film. 360 is more concerned with the tough and tricky choices people have to make as they figure out what's best for themselves and those around them. One character cites an old saying, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," and that mix of the decisive and the uncertain is the key to this film.
360 doesn't have a traditional narrative framework; Meirelles and Morgan aren't telling one large story here, but instead they allow a number of small incidents to overlap one another as fate leads the characters down different paths. Mirka (Lucia Siposova) is an attractive but thick-skinned woman from Eastern Europe who throws in her lot with Rocco (Johannes Krisch), a Russian pimp who brokers "dates" for his women online. Mirka's younger sister Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova) is wary of Rocco, but she's loyal to Mirka and acts as her assistant. Mirka's first john is Michael (Jude Law), a British businessman visiting Germany; when a possible client discovers he's made arrangements to meet a hooker, Michael finds himself a victim of blackmail. Meanwhile, back in London, Michael's wife Rose (Rachel Weisz) is wracked with guilt as she tries to end her affair with Rui (Juliano Cazarre), a handsome photographer originally from Brazil. Rui, as it happens, is also being unfaithful, and when his longtime girlfriend Laura (Maria Flor) finds out, she books a flight back home, feeling betrayed and out of sorts. On the flight, she strikes up a conversation with an older man (Anthony Hopkins) searching for his missing daughter, whose body may have been found in the United States. When their flight is grounded because of a snowstorm, Laura meets Tyler (Ben Foster), a fellow stranded passenger, and invites him back to her hotel room. What Laura doesn't know is that Tyler is a convicted sex offender who has just been released from prison and isn't sure if he's strong enough to overcome his criminal impulses. Meanwhile, the older man attends an AA meeting and crosses paths with Valentina (Dinara Drukarova), a Russian woman who is trapped in an unhappy marriage with Sergei (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a driver and gunman for an expatriate crime kingpin based in Paris; she works as a dental hygienist, and feels ready to act on her attraction to her boss (Jamel Debbouze), although he's uncertain about becoming involved with a married woman. And Sergei is no happier with himself or his path in life, and he's pondering his next move when he meets Anna on a rainy afternoon.
With his use of wipes, split screens, and a frequently roving camera, director Meirelles visually mirrors the constant movement of his characters and their penchant for happening upon one another at just the right (or wrong) time as fate plays with their circumstances, often in ways that betray our initial expectations.
While Meirelles keeps 360 moving along at a pace that's brisk but also makes room for suspense and periodic self-analysis, what really makes the film engaging is the cast. Although it hops back and forth between different continents and languages, the director has drawn several affecting performances from these actors: Dinara Drukarova is genuinely moving as a woman struggling to find her heart and her joy; Anthony Hopkins is given a showy monologue but has the sense to play it without going overboard; Maria Flor makes Laura's actions seem fully understandable even if they're wildly ill-advised; Ben Foster's emotional agony is played con brio but still feels painfully real and honest; and Gabriela Marcinkova gives Anna an innocence that doesn't seem either foolish or naïve. Some of Morgan's screenplay seems a bit hard to swallow on close examination, as coincidences pile up on one another, but the fine work of the actors and Meirelles' striking visual sense (aided by the talents of cinematographer Adriano Goldman) more than compensate. 360 is a frequently fascinating examination of the broad palate of human behavior, and no matter how far you may be separated from these characters geographically, it's likely you'll find something here that will speak clearly to your own circumstances.